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“Just tell me, Whitman.”
 
Drew felt a panic rise up inside him as he frantically considered what to say.
 
Finally, he settled on a censored version of the truth.

“It was nothing, Jeff.
 
I took her home.
 
She cried.
 
It was embarrassing for both of us.”
 

“Did you say something again?”
 

“No, I didn’t do anything this time, I promise.
 
She was just…sad.”
 
An image of her standing in front of him with tears in her eyes as they stood just outside her door crossed through his mind and he tried to ignore the way, even now, he longed to make her feel even just a little better.

“So on top of making her feel like a child, you went and made her feel vulnerable, too.”
 
Jeff interrupted his thoughts.

“Hey—
I
didn’t do anything except what you asked me to do.
 
So if you want me to keep this stupid thing going, then you’re going to have to cut me a little slack here and
help
me.”
 
His tone was sharper than he’d intended.
 
It wasn’t that he was angry with Jeff—more so, that he was angry with himself.
 

Because he knew that he was involved now—and even if he wanted to, Drew wasn’t going to be able to walk away from Anna until he knew she was happy again.

Or at least on the right track.
 
Clearly, she had terrible taste in men.

Jeff sighed again.
 
“Start by apologizing.”

“Then what?”
 
Drew had the feeling he should be asking Jeff to send this to him in text form.

“I don’t know, maybe try talking to her.”

“About what?”
 
If Drew had to hear Jeff sigh one more time, he decided he would throw the phone against the wall.

“I don’t know, Drew.
 
Whatever you guys talked about before.”
 
It seemed like such a long time ago, Drew had almost forgotten that he’d known her before Jeff had.
 

“She’s different now.”
 
He scratched at his head, trying to recall what he had long made himself forget.
 
He couldn’t talk to her about concerts or classes anymore—she was a grown up.
 
She had a job—

And just like that, he knew where to start.
 

Roughly, anyway.

 

~*~

 

Wednesday evening, Anna found herself sitting in the bleachers, a basketball game taking place on the floor in front of her.
 
She was alternating between looking at the floor and doing research on her phone.
 
Even though it was only a pick-up game, Anna liked the kids to know that she was still around.
 
Before taking over as the Director of Affairs, she had spent most of her time with the kids—and sometimes, she found she really missed it.
 

Even though she loved her job, she couldn’t deny how much easier things had been when she’d simply been a volunteer.
 
No responsibility, no pressure…but she knew that what she was doing now was making a difference.

She barely even noticed when someone took a seat beside her.
 
Aside from
herself
, there were just a few clusters of girls scattered around the bleachers—most likely watching their latest crushes.
 

“I thought you said this was just for kids.
 
That
guy looks like he’s at least twenty.”

Anna’s head shot up, her eyes wide, as she stared at the familiar dark-haired individual.
 
“Here, I brought you a peace offering.”
 
He held out a paper cup.
 
“It’s some sort of fancy Jasmine something or another tea.
 
I thought I remembered you liking that kind of thing.”

“Thank you,

 
she
nearly stammered, her shock getting the best of her as she accepted his offering.

And then she caught herself, pushing the warm cup back toward him.
 
She noticed he already held one.
 
“Wait—what the hell, Drew?”

“Too late, you already accepted.
 
You at least have to hear me out, now.”

“Right, because we’re five years old.”
 
She pushed the warm beverage back toward him, but he refused to take it.
 
Instead, he lifted his own cup to his lips and took a drink, barely even offering her a glance.
 
“I’m not above throwing this at you.”

“Who’s joining the five year old club, now?”
 
She clenched her jaw, realizing how ridiculous she was being.
 
“Just give me a few minutes, Anna.
 
I promise
,
I won’t be a jerk.”

She could handle him being a jerk—that she was used to.
 

What she was having a hard time with was feeling like a complete and total idiot.
 

“There’s nothing to say, Drew.
 
I was drunk.
 
You did me a
number
of favors.
 
End of story.”

“Then why are you so mad at me?”
 
She couldn’t bring herself to look at him.
 

“I’m not mad at you.”
 
Anna finally admitted.
 
“I just don’t know what you’re doing here.”

“I’m just watching a little basketball.”
 
He glanced at her out of the corner of her eye.
 
“Aren’t you going to drink your tea?”
 
She looked down at the cup in her hands, thinking long and hard for several moments.

Though she wasn’t quite sure what Drew’s sudden interest in her personal life was, she knew that, if nothing else, he meant well.
 

He’d shown her that much, anyway.

So, with a reluctant sigh, she raised the cup to her lips and took a small sip.

She didn’t miss the quick smile on his own lips before he took another drink of his own beverage.
 
“So—”

“So, here’s what I was thinking.”
 
He interrupted her, still watching what was happening on the floor.
 
“You seem like you could use a friend.”

“I—

 
But
Drew turned to face her, reaching out and touching his finger to her lips.
 
She immediately began to bristle around the edges.
 

“You took the offering—you have to listen.”
 
Anna narrowed her eyes at him, but Drew simply turned his eyes back to the floor.
 
“I’m not saying you don’t have friends, or that you have bad friends.
 
I’m just saying that a person can never have too many friends.”

“And
you
want to be
my
friend.”

“Why not?
 
We used to be friends.
 
Sort of.”
 
He paused, tilting his head to the side and furrowing his brow.
 
Anna thought back to their brief relationship—she had always assumed he’d been trying to pursue her.
 
“We were on the way to being friends, anyway.”
 
As he nodded, Anna noticed the satisfied grin on his face, as if he was pleased with himself for figuring it out.
 
A faint smile played at the corners of her mouth, in spite of herself.

“I don’t need a pity friendship, Drew Whitman.
 
Especially not from you.”
 
She realized how it might sound and she decided to clarify.
 
“I mean, I don’t need Jeff’s best friend—”

“It has nothing to do with Jeff.”
 
Now, he did turn to look at her.
 
“Well, that’s sort of a lie.”
 
He offered her a crooked smile.
 
“I mean, let’s be honest here.
 
I don’t have
that
many people in my life.
 
It wouldn’t exactly hurt for me to make a new friend, myself.”

“Or an old friend.”
 
Anna corrected him.

“An old
almost
friend.”
 
Anna tried not to smile at his correction and instead turned away from him, shifting her eyes toward the court.
 
She took a long drink of the tea he’d brought her, this time allowing herself a moment to savor the taste.
 

If she were to be honest with herself, she knew she could benefit from having Drew in her life.
 
He was carefree in a way Anna longed for—she had always admired that about him.
 

She also knew he would make her laugh, so long as she could find a way to get over her recent humiliation.

She sighed quietly.
 
“I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to at least give it a shot.”
 

“Well—all right then.”
 
Again, Anna didn’t miss the grin as he stared out at the floor for several moments.
 
“So—what now?”

And Anna couldn’t help but laugh, shaking her head.
 
She took another sip of tea.

“You mean
,
you don’t have anything else figured out?”

“I didn’t really think you’d say okay.”
 
He confessed, and Anna rolled her eyes.

“Well, I suppose we should make plans to hang out, then.”
 

“What about…lunch?
 
Maybe…Thursday?”
 
She thought about it for a moment, considering how, this time last week, Drew Whitman was barely even a flicker on her radar.
 

And here she was, sitting next to him, actually contemplating spending
more
time with him.

It wasn’t so out of the question, she knew.
 
As he’d already pointed out, she had, long ago, been on the way to becoming—well,
something
to Drew, even if it had just been another notch on his bedpost.
 

She had resolved against that then, though, and this—this was different.

And he wasn’t wrong, she had to admit.
 
Anna could count the number of people she considered “friends” on one hand.

It was strange, how that happened.
 
She realized that it wasn’t the loss of Jeff as her lover that was hurting the most, but rather the loss of his friendship.
 
There was something that changed, she realized, as she’d gotten older.
 
Her friends had slowly drifted away, and she’d come to rely on Jeff as both her best friend and her partner.
 

Was it like that for everyone?
 

“I could do lunch.
 
Thursday, you said?”

“Thursday should work just fine, Annabelle.”

If she wasn’t mistaken, she thought she heard just the faintest glimmer of excitement in Drew’s voice.

She’d be lying if she said she wasn’t looking forward to it, too.

 

Chapter Five

 

 

Anna sighed as she stared out the window.
 
She should have known better than to attempt an actual friendship with Drew Whitman.

Now that she was here, waiting, she wondered how Jeff had put up with him for so long.
 
Drew lived his life as if he was the only one that mattered—as if everything centered
around
him, and he could do as he pleased without ever facing the consequences.

She felt like an idiot.
 
As if humiliating her once wasn’t enough—oh no, he had to rub salt in the wound.

With another loud sigh, she tossed a few bills on the table to pay for the coffee she’d had while she waited for him and rose to her feet, shaking her head.
 
She pulled her coat on and left through the doors she had entered nearly forty-five minutes ago, heading directly for the parking lot.

Her phone began to ring a few minutes into the drive back to the community center, but Anna refused to answer it.

He’d had his chance—it wasn’t her fault that he’d blown it.

She was sure to smile at Crystal as she passed through the front entrance, hurrying along the way to her office.
 
All she wanted to do was get back to work and put this afternoon behind her.

Deep down, Anna knew she should have expected this from him.
 
But she hadn’t prepared herself for the rejection, and it hurt much worse than it should.
 

Her phone continued to ring and, finally, she placed it on silent and threw it in the drawer of her desk.
 

That was much, much better, she thought to herself as she shifted her focus to the spreadsheet in front of her.
 
The end of the month was always stressful, what with maintaining various budgets and finalizing activity calendars.

It couldn’t have been ten minutes later when a knock sounded on her door and she rose, expecting to find Crystal waiting—but, as usual, Drew Whitman caught her off guard.

He held up a plain white bag.

“I brought dessert.”

“Unfortunately, I haven’t had lunch yet.”
 
She told him, her face a mask.
 
She braced herself against the door, set on not letting him pass.

“I’m guessing some jerk must have stood you up.”

“Oh, he’s a jerk, all right.”
 
Drew tilted his head to the side, his blue eyes finding hers.
 

“I’m sorry, Annabelle.
 
I got held up at work—”

“And you didn’t think to pick up the phone?”

“I was called into a meeting.
 
I honestly didn’t expect it to take nearly as long as it did.”
 
He held up the bag again, giving it a little shake.
 
“I promise
,
this is the best cherry pie you’ll ever taste.”

“Drew, maybe we should just…”

“Just give me one more chance, Annabelle.
 
I swear—I won’t let this kind of thing happen again.”
 

She weighed her options, the tantalizing scent of the pie filling the room.

“I’m only doing this for the pie, just so you know.”
 
She held open the door, allowing him in.
 
A child-like grin flashed across his lips and she couldn’t help the smile that touched her own as she ducked her head, refusing to let him see it.
 

“Well, you won’t regret it.”
 
He waited for her to take a seat before he sat in the chair in front of her desk, taking two containers from the bag.
 
“The
pie,
or my company.”

“We’ll see about that.”
 
She was already regretting them both.
 

“Scout’s honor.”

“For some reason, I highly doubt you were ever a boy scout.”
 
She took the fork he offered her.
 

“Okay, so Jeff was the scout.
 
I just sort of…watched.”
 
She smiled again, despite herself.
 
“But I was very supportive.”

“I doubt that, too.”
 
He looked up just in time to catch her taking her first bite of the pie.
 
She covered her mouth with her hand, doing her very best not to close her eyes.

The pie was pure bliss.

“It would seem that you know me much better than I had thought.”
 
He told her, taking a bite of his own piece.
 
Anna swallowed before she met his eyes.

“I know your kind well, Mr. Whitman.”
 

Before Jeff, Anna had wasted quite a lot of time on boys very similar to Drew.
 

“I like to think I’m not quite what you would expect.”
 
He told her.

She had a feeling she was going to find out.

“We’ll see about that, won’t we?”
 
she
predicted.

“I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised, Annabelle.”
 
She was struck once again by the urge to ask him why he called her that—and, for the first time in a very, very long time, she actually thought about the first time she’d met Drew.
 

He’d been both charming and vile that night, and in spite of herself, she had been drawn to him—drawn to that devilish glimmer in his eyes, to the brief excitement his kiss had brought her.
 

“So—what do you think about the pie?”
 
His words brought her back to the present.

“I hate to admit it…but you were right.”
 
She pushed the empty container away.
 

“Possibly the most beautiful words ever spoken.”
 
Drew leaned back in his chair, looking entirely too satisfied with himself.

“You were still a jerk.”
 
She couldn’t help herself.
 
His expression sobered and he leaned forward, resting his arms on her desk.
 

“I know.
 
I had every intention of being there.
 
But I was called into a meeting right after the show ended, by my boss…and there was literally no way of getting out of it.
 
I promise you—I tried.”
 
He tilted his head to the side, offering her the same smile he had probably used on a countless number of women.
 
“Can we still be friends?”

But even through the boyish charm, there was
a certain
sincerity about Drew that she had always recognized.
 
Jeff wouldn’t have been so close to someone for so long if they didn’t deserve it, and he and Drew had been friends since they were kids.
 

Anna just had to see through the bad-boy façade.

“You’re lucky I’m desperate enough to even consider it.”
 
She rolled her eyes, crossing her arms over her chest.
 
“You’re going to have to make it up to me.”

“I don’t doubt that for even a second.”
 
He grinned, then, a tiny, little dimple appearing.
 
“On that note—have your tastes in music improved, or are you still a dreaded Beatles fanatic?”

Anna glared at him from across her desk.
 
It was one of the first real discussions they’d had, way back when they had first started hanging out.
 
She had been wearing a Beatles shirt on one occasion, and Drew had told her they were “alright”, but the face of
rock’n’roll
was indisputably transformed by the Stones—to which she had argued that there would be no Rolling Stones without the Beatles.
 

 
“Is insulting my taste in music your idea of ‘making it up to me’?
 
Because I have to say—”


Actually
, I was going to invite you to a show.”
 
He leaned back in his chair, resting his hands behind his head.
 
“There’s this tribute band—though, really, they’re more than that.
 
They put on a pretty good show, and they’re going to be at Canon’s Pub.”

“Oh.”
 
She bit her lip.
 
“When?”

“I’m pretty sure it’s tomorrow night, actually.”

She spent a few moments looking at her phone, as if she was trying to figure out if she could squeeze it in.
 

“I don’t know…”
 
She paused for a moment.
 
“I think I could probably swing that.”
 

She could squeeze it in between eating a pint of ice cream and crying through the movie-of-the-week.
 

“I mean, if you think you can stomach
decent
music for an extended period of time.
 
I’m assuming your position hasn’t changed.”

“I think it’s a sacrifice I’m going to have to make.
 
You know, in the name of friendship and all.”
 

What was she getting herself into?

 

~*~

 

A wonderful evening, as it turned out.
 

It had started out pretty rough, and several times she’d considered not even going.
 
But in the end, she couldn’t bring herself to do that.
 
She didn’t know why, but she had believed Drew when he’d told her that he had been stuck at work.
 
He hadn’t stood her up on purpose, and she wasn’t going to do it to him.

So she’d spent at least thirty minutes trying on various outfits, feeling as if she were getting ready for a date rather than what she was actually doing.

Which, she had assumed, was really just setting herself up to be stood up and disappointed all over again.

Finally, though, she had settled on a dressy black top with a pair of jeans—bar casual, she had concluded.
 
Completely acceptable to wear on a non-date.

When she finally arrived at the popular bar, having insisted on meeting him there, Anna had been pleasantly surprised to find that not only hadn’t Drew stood her up—but it appeared he had arrived early.
 

She found him sitting at a table near the stage, a beer in front of him.
 
Almost as soon as she’d taken her seat, the waitress brought one over for her as well.

“I’m a little surprised you came.”
 
He admitted after she’d settled in, taking a sip of the heavy beer—Guinness, she recognized.

“I figured, after what you did for me, at the very least, I had to make an appearance.”
 
She told him.

“Stand you up?”
 
He asked, referring to their lunch date.
 
Anna rolled her eyes at him, shaking her head.
 
Was he really going to make her say it?

“No, Drew.
 
The other stuff.”

“Pie?”
 
She couldn’t tell if he was just messing with her or if he was really that dense.
 
She rolled her eyes again, this time sighing loudly.
 
She took another sip of her Guinness.

“No…you know, preventing me from making a few terrible choices.”

“Oh.
 
That.”
 
She felt her cheeks flush and she shifted her eyes to the table, pretending to read the menu.
 
“So you’re not mad at me for lunch?”

A smile tugged at the corners of her lips as she looked up at him, shaking her head.
 
She wished she could tell him how grateful she was that he wasn’t pushing the issue, but as she met his eyes from across the table, something told her that he already knew.
 

“Let’s just say that, if it happens again, you’re going to need a lot more than pie and some cover band to find your way back into my good graces.”


Cover band
?”
 
Drew’s expression grew very serious as he shook his head.
 
“The Abby Roadies are no such thing, Miss Annabelle
Maloy
.
 
They are a
tribute
band.
 
There’s a big difference.”

“I’m sure there is.”
 

“You’ll be singing a different tune by the end of the night.”

“Want to bet?”
 
she
asked, leaning forward.

“What do I get if I win?”
 
Drew leaned forward too, resting his arms on the table.
 
She couldn’t help but notice the bright blue of his eyes.
 
She’d always thought he had beautiful eyes.

“What do you want?”
 
As soon as the words left her mouth, she realized that they sounded an awful lot like a proposition.
 
He seemed to realize it too, and he raised an eyebrow at her.
 
Anna rolled her eyes and shook her head at him—they both knew
that
wasn’t something he was interested in.

“Well, if that’s off the table…”
 
He tilted his head to the side, thinking for a long moment.
 
She watched as four guys took the stage behind him, barely paying attention.
 
“If I win, then I want a dance.”

“That’s it?”

“I didn’t say what kind of dance.”

“Drew…”
 
Anna warned.
 

“Fine, then.
 
If I win, I’ll take the sweet satisfaction of hearing you tell me that I’m right, and you’re wrong.”
 
Anna laughed then, nodding her agreement.
 
That was something she could consent to.
 
“Sorry, I’m not used to this whole platonic thing.
 
I’m pretty sure I’ve never been friends with a girl before.”
  

“Well, welcome to the world of adults, Drew Whitman.
 
It’s nice here—you might even think of buying a little real estate.”
 
She smiled as she patted him on the hand before leaning back and taking a long drink from her glass.
 

BOOK: Single, Available, and Completely Attached
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