Authors: Michelle Brewer
Even if it meant working all day and all night.
Okay, so her efforts weren’t entirely selfless, she acknowledged as she walked to her car later that week.
It was probably easier for her to lose herself in her work now than it was to lose herself in a drawing, her inspiration having been lacking for quite awhile now.
Anytime she sat down to put pencil to paper, she froze.
And besides, putting her energy into researching statistics and looking for grants was a lot more efficient than staring at a blank page while thoughts of Jeff overwhelmed her.
He was just such a good guy.
He didn’t deserve…
Anna stopped herself short, unwilling to carry that thought any further.
After tonight, she would be done with it all.
She glanced in the backseat, the box of various CD’s and books and even a few items of clothing causing a rush of memories to wash over her.
They’d had a lot of good times together, she and Jeff.
But they were better off this way.
Jeff deserved someone who he could be happy with.
And Anna…well, she only hoped that she hadn’t made a huge mistake letting him go.
After all, he had been the only guy who hadn’t treated her like garbage their entire relationship.
He didn’t cheat on her, he didn’t take advantage of her—he never even fought with her.
How had she not been happy?
What kind of a demented freak was she?
She sighed softly.
Jeff had never really been her type.
Where she had always gone for the tall, dark, rebel-without-a-cause type, Jeff was fair-haired and bright-eyed, his entire life planned out for him.
He came from a family of lawyers and there was no way he was going to deviate.
And that had been exactly what had attracted her.
The fact that he was the polar opposite of everything her heart seemed to crave.
Jeff was safe.
He wasn’t going to hurt her—not like the others had.
As they got to know one another, she found he was just as easy to love as he was to get along with.
But now, she realized that it wasn’t love their relationship had been lacking in—but passion.
She stared up at the building in front of her, part of her almost disappointed to see a light on in his apartment.
Well, she might as well get it over with.
She sighed, opening the door and grabbing the box.
She could do this.
She pressed the button that would call his apartment and waited a long moment for his voice to greet her.
But instead, all she got was the angry buzzing sound, signaling the door had been unlocked.
Anna pushed on the handle and then made her way up the stairs, her heart thumping wildly in her chest as her nerves got the best of her.
This is for the best,
she repeated over and over again.
Finally, she reached his door and she somehow managed to knock while still holding the box.
She glared at the door, wishing Drew could somehow be on the receiving end instead of the door, as she struggled with the knob.
When she entered, he looked up, surprise clearly displayed on his face.
“Oh, it’s you.”
“Sorry to disappoint.”
Surely he had been expecting some six-foot-two blonde model-type to walk through his door—not the five-foot-three, average-Anna.
She sighed beneath his gaze, waiting for him to say something.
When after at least a minute or two had passed, Anna glanced down at the box, as if asking where she should set it.
It was a lot heavier now that she’d been holding on to it for awhile.
“Oh, you can just set it there,
gestured to the floor beside her.
“That all of it?”
Anna only nodded, feeling very awkward in Drew’s presence without Jeff around.
It wasn’t as if they were friends or anything.
funny how seven years boils down to a box of junk.”
“Yep, it’s a real knee slapper.”
She hoped he didn’t notice the sound of unshed tears in her voice as she crossed her arms over her chest.
“So what’s next on the agenda, you little heartbreaker, you?”
His tone was teasing, but that didn’t make the comment any less hurtful.
Anna stared at him for a moment before speaking, unable to hold back.
“Look, Drew, I know you think I’m a bitch.
But you don’t know what happened.
So I’d appreciate it if you’d cut me just a little bit of slack.
It’s not like I
to hurt him.”
, she swore silently as a tear slipped down her cheek.
Crying in front of Drew Whitman.
That was a brilliant idea.
“Just forget it,
shook her head, suddenly very anxious to get away from him.
“Can you just make sure he gets that?
I think we can both be happy that, after this, we’ll never have to see each other again.”
“Hey, Anna, I didn’t—”
But she would have none of it.
She held up her hand and shook her head.
“Don’t worry about it, Drew.
I’m sure you didn’t mean anything by it.”
He stepped toward her, as if he might reach out to her, but she couldn’t do it.
She stepped back toward the door, a hand resting on the knob.
She’d already made an ass of herself by crying in front of him.
She wasn’t about to let him see her break down completely.
Which was exactly what would happen if she let him comfort her.
Because when Jeff’s best friend was trying to make her feel better for breaking up with Jeff…well, that’s when she would know she was in bad shape.
She asked before she stepped through the door.
“Just tell him I’m sorry.”
“He knows, Anna.”
And as she nodded her head, she could feel the sobs building up inside her.
She managed a sad smile before she ducked through the door and dashed down the stairs, rushing back to her car and shoving the keys in the ignition.
A slow, sad song played on the radio.
A song of goodbye.
And Anna let it all wash over her, a few quiet sobs and a dozen tears.
It was time to let go.
Drew was an ass.
Usually he wasn’t so ready and willing to admit this fact, even just to himself.
But tonight, he’d outdone himself.
Yep, tonight, he’d really pulled out all the stops.
Okay, that wasn’t entirely accurate.
He hadn’t even said that much to Anna.
But apparently, it hadn’t taken much.
He thought about the tears in her eyes.
Once before, many years ago, it seemed, he had been drawn to her because of those tears.
Tonight had been no different.
The moment he realized what was happening, he immediately had the urge to impose a bit of punishment upon the person who had caused her any pain.
But seeing as how he couldn’t really kick his own ass, Drew had decided to settle for a nice scotch and some self-loathing before bed.
When that didn’t work, he pulled out his phone and called the only person he thought might be able to make him feel a little bit better.
“Hey, man, what’s going on?”
“Your girlfriend stopped by tonight.”
Might as well dive right in.
Drew imagined Jeff pinching the bridge of his nose.
“The one and only.”
Drew took another sip from his glass.
“She dropped your stuff off.
Looks like a bunch of junk to me, though.”
“How was she?”
Shouldn’t Drew be the one asking how
Hadn’t he been the one to have his heart broken?
Drew thought about his response for a long moment, wondering what he should tell Jeff.
He could lie and say that she was nothing but smiles and giggles.
Maybe he could even say she made a play for him.
Right, like Jeff would believe that.
“She’s…she started crying, man.”
The words were out of his mouth before he had the chance to think twice about it.
“I didn’t even say anything—”
say something, Drew.”
Jeff sighed on the other end of the phone.
Drew felt the guilt wash over him, knowing his friend was right.
“I might have implied that she was a…”
He paused, reluctant to even repeat what he had said.
It wasn’t as if it had been
“A heartbreaker of sorts.”
He shook his head, now officially ashamed of himself.
“Oh, Drew…I don’t know how you get by with your foot permanently lodged in that mouth of yours.”
Jeff sighed again and Drew swore he could almost hear his best friend rubbing his temple.
“I know, I’m a jerk.
I get it.”
He sighed himself, taking a longer drink from his glass.
“She wanted me to tell you she’s sorry.”
“I know she is.”
Jeff fell quiet for a few moments and Drew busied himself with swirling the liquid in his glass around.
“I need you to do something for me.”
Was he going to tell Drew to apologize?
Because he was pretty sure that wouldn’t help the situation.
At this point, it was probably best if they both just cut their losses and moved on.
“I need you to keep an eye on her for me.”
Drew leaned forward, setting his glass on the table beside him as he began to shake his head.
What the hell was Jeff thinking?
don’t think that’s a good idea, man—”
“Look, I know how Anna gets when she’s all guilt-ridden.”
“Yeah, but doesn’t she have
Drew shook his head again, determined to protest against this with everything he could muster—even if Jeff couldn’t see him.
Anna had seemed pretty thrilled by the prospect of never having to see him again.
“I’m not asking you to paint each other’s toenails and gossip over your latest celebrity crushes.”
Drew almost laughed at the image in his head.
He hardly imagined Anna to be the type to paint her nails and gossip over boys.
It only took him a moment to realize that what he
be laughing at was the image of
in her life.
“I just mean…maybe check in on her here and there.
You can usually find her at the community center most nights—”
“And you think that’ll really fly with her?
Me just randomly dropping by?”
There was no way Anna was going to let him anywhere near her, let alone her place of work.
“You’re a smooth talker, Drew.
You’ll make it believable.”
Jeff seriously overestimated Drew’s abilities.
Especially considering that Anna was one of the select few on whom his efforts went completely unnoticed.
“I’m just worried about her.”
Jeff told him.
And if Drew was being totally honest with himself—
he definitely wasn’t going to be—he would have to admit that he was worried, too.
Anna smiled as she waved goodbye to the few remaining kids.
The first movie night of the week had just drawn to a close, which meant that it was time for Anna to return home.
A pint of ice cream and a brand new package of Oreos
waiting for her.
Just over a week had passed since she had dropped Jeff’s things off at Drew’s and, though she knew she shouldn’t be wallowing, she couldn’t help herself.
She was still hurting.
Even though she had been the one to end things with Jeff, it didn’t mean that she wasn’t mourning the loss of their relationship.
They had been friends, too.
So as she curled up in front of the TV, ice cream in hand, she justified her depression.
What was the harm in nursing her broken heart with a little ice cream and a lot of true crime shows?
“If I have to listen to that narrator for one more minute, Anna Marie, I swear, I’m going to hang myself.”
Well, maybe there was some harm in it after all.
Alice appeared in the living room, her hands on her hips.
She was definitely dressed for a night out, wearing a black vest-like top with nothing but a bra beneath it and a pair of very tight jeans.
“I just sat down.”
“I don’t care.
Anna rolled her eyes at her younger sister.
“I mean it, Anna.
You’re coming out with me.”
Anna coughed on the spoonful of ice cream she had just swallowed.
Alice couldn’t be serious.
“I don’t think so.”
“That’s too bad for you, because I
A new club just opened up downtown.
It’s supposed to be pretty good.”
Alice raised an eyebrow at her older sister as if challenging her.
“I plan on doing nothing but lying in front of the TV for the next few hours.”
Anna truly couldn’t care less about a new club.
There was a new episode tonight that she had been looking forward to seeing all week.
Alice turned around and unplugged the TV, lifting it off the stand and carrying it away.
For a moment, Anna could only stare in disbelief.
As soon as she recovered, though, she scrambled to her feet, chasing after her sister—but she wasn’t quick enough.
Alice had already locked the TV away in her bedroom.
“Good luck watching it through my door.”
“I don’t feel like going out, Allie.”
Anna told her sister, her tone full of dread.
“Of course you don’t.
You’re in your pajamas.
Give me about twenty minutes and you’ll feel as good as new.”
Anna seriously doubted that.
“I know you’re sad.
You guys were together for a long time.
But the only way you’re going to start believing you did the right thing is if you start living your life a little bit.
You’ve got to get out there, meet some new boys.
Have a little fun.
Seriously, Anna, how long has it been since you’ve gotten any?”
Her only response was to stare at Alice doubtfully.
Okay, so her sister had a point.
It had been at least a few months since she had, as Alice had so elegantly described it, “gotten any”.
Even before the break-up, it wasn’t as if she and Jeff saw each other regularly.
Just give me an hour of your night.
If you’re not enjoying yourself, then you have my permission to come home.
I’ll even bring the TV back out.”
Anna stared at her little sister, knowing the quickest way to placate her would be to do what she wanted.
“You’ve got an hour.”
Drew stood on the upper level of the club, watching the crowd below him.
It was crowded tonight—lots of new faces.
Looked like his on-air shout out had worked.
He was on the prowl, as he usually was.
He scanned the crowd, looking for his conquest of the evening.
Nothing was catching his attention, though.
He wondered if he was getting too picky—maybe he was setting his standards just a bit too high these days.
He’d been having a hard time finding anything to catch his attention as of late.
The thought disappeared the moment he saw the girl standing at the bar.
She had her head turned toward the bartender, but from everything he could see, she was
what he was looking for tonight.
Short skirt, a silvery top.
Her fair colored hair hung in loose waves—kind of wild, but not unruly.
Legs for miles, curves Drew could only imagine felt like heaven.
And then she turned to face in his direction.
He felt his heart drop from his chest.
No, it wasn’t…
It couldn’t be…
He watched as she sipped from her drink, sitting alone at the bar.
A guy nearby watched her, sizing her up.
Drew knew what was going through his mind—hadn’t he just been thinking the same thoughts just moments ago?
She stared down into her drink, stirring it around with her straw.
He could see her sadness even from where he stood.
Drew was mesmerized.
The guy decided to make his move and Drew watched in anticipation, waiting to see her response.
She lifted her head as he sat down beside her, her smile reserved.
He didn’t have a chance.
It only took her a few moments to slip away, pushing through the crowd.
She paused a moment to talk to a girl Drew vaguely recognized as her sister, cupping her hands over her mouth so that the girl could hear her.
And then she hurried toward the door, disappearing out into the night.
Drew had to quench the urge to go after her.
It wouldn’t help anything.
Alice’s tone was stern.
Anna groaned, knowing what was coming.
Alice was a bit disappointed in the lackluster attempt Anna had made the night before—and as a result, her little sister was standing in front of her, digging through her closet.
“We are going to get you out of this funk if it is the last thing we do.”
She turned around, tossing a very thin white shirt and a pair of black faux-leather pants at Anna.
“I’m not in a funk—”
“Oh, you most certainly are.”
Alice now focused her attention on Anna’s dresser, pulling open the drawer that contained all of her bras.
Anna shouted as Alice began to ruffle through her bras, pulling out something black and lacy.
Anna jumped to her feet and snatched it from her.
“I am perfectly capable of dressing myself.”
“Great, then you can go ahead and get a head start on that while I go and whip us up a little
“No arguments, Anna Marie.
You’re coming out with me tonight.
I am going to make sure you get drunk enough to forget all about Mr. Jeff Gardner and your lonely little heart so that you actually have some
Besides, the quickest way to get over one guy is to move on to another.
Even if just for one night.”
Alice disappeared from Anna’s bedroom, a devilish glint in her eye, before she had a chance to argue with her.
Anna groaned again, knowing her sister wasn’t going to let up until she at least made somewhat of an effort to enjoy herself.
Last night, she’d barely given it an hour before she had slipped away.
She sighed, stripping out of the pajamas she had put on after coming home earlier and taking a bath.
Without even the faintest hint of enthusiasm, Anna dressed herself in the clothes Alice had chosen for her.
Just as her thoughts began to wander to a night that seemed an eternity ago, Alice reappeared, two shot glasses filled with some mysterious liquid in one hand and two bottles of liquor in the other.
Anna didn’t hesitate.
Maybe Alice was right.
Maybe this was exactly what she needed.
A night out, just she and her sister.
A little alcohol, a lot of dancing…
That sounded like a recipe for a pretty fun evening, didn’t it?
Alice poured another shot and Anna took it without argument.
“You’re going to have fun, Annie.
You’re going to walk into that club, looking sexy as hell, and you’re going to let guys buy you drinks.
And you’re going to dance with them.
And if you even so much as
about a certain someone—you’re going to do a shot of tequila.”
“I mean it.”
“Just promise that we can leave whenever I’m ready to.”
Alice handed Anna another shot and she drank it, trying not to notice the bitter aftertaste.
After taking the glass from her and setting it on the nightstand, Alice reached out and took Anna’s face in her hands.
But you have to promise me that
are going to make an effort to have a little fun tonight.”
“Okay, I promise.”
Anna agreed, taking a deep breath.
“But you’re going to have to keep those coming.”
She nodded toward the empty shot glass and Alice laughed.
Anna was going to have fun.
Drew had resumed his usual spot on the balcony, staring down at those below him.
He’d noticed her the moment she walked in this time.
She and her sister were on the dance floor now, dancing as if there were no tomorrow.
When the song finished, they made their way to the bar where they tossed back yet another round, presumably purchased by one of the many pathetic jerks who’d been watching them from the start.
Okay, so Drew was one of them.
But he wasn’t watching because he thought he had a chance.
He was watching because he couldn’t tear his eyes away.
The moment he’d seen her walk in, he remembered the night the two of them had met.
She had been dressed almost identically that night, even down to the sadness in her eyes.
Her sister leaned over and said something into Anna’s ear.
He watched as she glanced at a table of guys, one of whom waved at them.
Ah-ha, so that was the chump.
What a moron, actually thinking he had a shot.
Drew watched as Anna waved him over, a smile on her face.
It wasn’t a
She was just going to thank him, Drew told himself.
But a moment later, he watched as she let him take her out onto the dance floor.
Well, he had funded practically her entire evening, so at least
dance was called for.
They danced for one song, and then another.
And then another after that.
Drew began to feel a heavy weight in the pit of his stomach as he watched them.
He made his way downstairs, taking a seat at the bar.
The woman beside him leaned over, apparently thinking he had taken the open spot in an attempt to garner her attention.
He smiled politely, trying to carry on a conversation with the woman while keeping his attention on Anna.
The guy, who Drew had officially named Grabby-hands, leaned in, as if he was about to kiss her.
Drew was on his feet in an instant, making his way through the crowd.
He tapped Anna on the shoulder before he could stop himself.
“May I cut in?”
He couldn’t even find a word to describe the look on her face.
It was an odd mixture of relief, hatred, and annoyance.
“Hey, buddy, if you don’t mind—”
“Actually, I do.”
Drew barely even glanced at Grabby-hands.
“How about it, Annabelle?
Just one dance.”
narrowed her eyes as she glared at him.
“I’m okay here, Drew.”
She wrapped her arms around Grabby-hands’ neck.