Authors: Heather Topham Wood
“Yes, well I’m more of an enigma than everyone thinks,” I said sarcastically, steadfastly maintaining my guard.
Lexi frowned at me. “So, what went down with you and Justin?”
I shook my head vehemently. “I don’t want to get into it right now.” Lexi opened up her mouth to argue, but I placed a hand up to quiet her. “I’ll tell you all about it soon, but we are in probably the most beautiful place I ever seen in my life. Let’s just pretend assholes like Justin don’t exist here.”
After a split second’s hesitation, Lexi nodded her head in agreement. I could tell she wanted the whole sordid story. Her intentions were benign—Lexi was a natural born fixer. Put a problem in front of her and she wouldn’t stop until it was resolved to her upmost satisfaction.
I was the runner. Sadly, my time for running was almost out. There was no place to run anymore. The truth was going to come out one way or another. And all my regrets would blow up fantastically in my face.
Six Months Earlier…
“Why do you have to go with your friends to Atlantic City? Wouldn’t you just rather stay here in bed?” Cole sighed into my ear. I went to move to a sitting position, but he wrapped his arm around my waist to pull me back into bed.
Snuggling comfortably under his arms, I rested my head against his bare chest. He felt warm and smelled heavenly. He was low-maintenance in the bathroom, using only soap and deodorant, but the simple combination made his scent deliciously masculine. I felt like I honestly could remain content staying intertwined with him forever.
“I wish you could come,” I said quietly, using my forefinger to trace a line down his torso until I neared his waistband.
“I know. Dumb band practice and work. Once I get a sweet-ass record deal, I can just put an album out each year and spend the rest of the time as your man candy,” he said.
My laughter was light-hearted. I was a different Casey with Cole. I floated in a cloud way above the earth. “I love that plan.”
“Well, I hope you come back from Atlantic City as a big winner. I’ll give you fifty dollars to put on red for me,” he said into my hair.
“Ugh, I hate gambling. It pains me to part with money. To depend on luck for one’s happiness is a fool’s errand,” I said in a mock profound voice. “Read that in a fortune cookie once.”
I could feel the rumble of Cole’s laughter through his chest. “I love that you take advice from a fortune cookie.” His voice started as joking, but turned serious. “I know we met last year, but these past couple of months have been eye opening. I feel like I’m getting to know you better than anyone else.”
I patted him away playfully. The sincerity in his voice was making me uneasy. I hadn’t done serious in a long time. Everything seemed to be happening way too fast and I was trying to let my brain catch up to my heart. I’d made so many mistakes before with men and I never trusted my judgment when it came to the opposite sex. I had a lot of regrets in my past: one-night stands with men I didn’t even end up liking the next morning, drunken hookups with horny frat boys who couldn't care less about me, relationships that revolved around sex instead of love.
My restlessness came from wanting Cole more than I ever thought possible. I was terrified of allowing myself to be completely vulnerable with a man who could possibly wake up one morning and decide he wanted something I couldn’t give him.
“That’s because most girls haven’t even been in your life long enough to gather souvenirs.”
“Yeah, you know like undershirts, boxers, your previously chewed bubble gum.” I smiled balefully at the disgusted sound he made in the back of his throat. “Don’t worry, I’ve been secretly collecting so I can sell it all on eBay once you’re famous.”
Before he could answer, a loud knock shook his bedroom door, rattling the hinges. “Hey asswipe, quit plowing Casey’s field and let’s go. Levi and Rain are waiting!” Evan shouted through the door.
“I’m coming!” Cole snapped back.
“You better be after how damn long you’ve been in that room,” he called back and I could hear his barking laughter as he walked away from the locked door.
“Ugh, you really need to move. We need more privacy. I’m really tired of having to muffle my screams during sex,” I complained.
My words were an obvious invitation. Cole palmed my naked breast, before moving his lips to cover mine. My heart went instantly into overdrive. His kiss was teasing and playful. I thought we were both spent from the sex we just had, but he was gearing me up for round two. The intensity never subsided when we were together, I only wanted more and more. Between slow, sensual kisses, he said, “Maybe we should move somewhere together. Then you can scream as much as you want.”
I gasped at his words as well as how his fingertips brushed over my sensitive nipples. My back arched as he applied just the right amount of pressure. I managed, “Wouldn’t that be crazy fast?”
His scruff nuzzled my neck as he spoke. “We’re not exactly strangers, Casey. And I’m not saying right away, but you’ll be graduating after next semester and will need an off-campus apartment for grad school. I see us together then and for a long time after then.”
“You can?” I whispered, my deepest desires so delicate at the moment.
“Yes. I want you as my future. My mom told my brothers and me this story once…” He trailed off and as he pulled away I saw uncertainty creep into his expression. I took his hand in mine to encourage him to continue. Cole struggled to be expressive. His steelworker dad was a hardened man who had kept everything bottled inside. No one in his family knew he'd struggled with depression until it was too late.
He smiled down at our hands although his voice sounded strained. “Anyway, she told us that there was one sure way to discover if we found our
At my unspoken question, he elaborated, “
means a treasure in Italian. She said we should kiss a girl for one minute without stopping. No touching, groping, or other
as she called it. After that minute, you’ll know for sure if she’s the one. Because if we were looking for more or felt like we were just going through the motions, then she wasn’t right for us.”
“And you’re my
,” he said softly.
I brushed my thumb across his soft and smooth lips. “I think that’s the sweetest thing anyone has ever said to me before,” I said, feeling choked up. “You were my undiscovered treasure for so long. I thought I knew who you were and what you were after, but I was so wrong. And I regret every time I told you no. Because I missed out on having this with you.”
Evan started knocking again, but Cole ignored him. He had me on my back and rained down kisses all over my face and neck. As his fingers slipped below the covers and found my opening, I understood we were both going to be late for our evening plans.
But I didn’t have a care in the world. I had him and I was finally ready to give him all of me. Not only my body, but also my heart. My body I’d been all to ready to hand over from the second we kissed, but my heart had been a different story. My heart was safely guarded with what I thought was impenetrable security measures. Little did I know that Cole had the combo in his back pocket from the moment we'd met.
“Hey, what are you lost in thought about?”
Cole’s tone from my memories was much different. The old version of Cole had a soft hypnotizing lilt to his voice. Cole’s voice had changed: harder with a distrustful quality. My heart hurt to think of what type of irreparable damage I had inflicted upon him. If only he could look inside of my heart and know that if I could go back to change things, I would in a heartbeat. My intentions were never to ruin us, but because of who I was, I had anyway.
“Nothing just tired. Guess all the traveling has finally caught up with me,” I said quietly. After returning to the ship and setting sail for the next island, we had decided on a group dinner with the men. After dinner, we headed to the outside decks to enjoy the gentle ocean breeze. I had drifted away from everyone to stare morosely out into the ocean.
I ran a hand through my hair, knowing the curls were too tight to tame, and frizzing whether I wanted them to or not. I hoped I had the fetching windblown look and not appear like I stuck my finger in a socket. My white skirt billowed up from time to time and I smoothed it flat against my thighs.
Surprisingly, Cole took the chair next to mine and leaned back comfortably. “Do you know this is the first time I’ve been out of the country?”
I nodded and smiled at him. “Your mom never wanted to travel?” I sidestepped mentioning his dad. Cole opened up to me eventually about his dad’s depression and suicide, but it took him a long time. I wasn’t his girlfriend anymore and I probably lost the right to mention his father. My father was a non-entity in my life, but at least I had the assurance he was living and breathing somewhere out in the world, continuously striving to make his millions.
“No, she would only want to travel back to the ‘old country,’” he said using air quotes. “Once Trojan Jedi gets signed, my brother and I are going to book a trip with her to Sicily.”
I grinned at him. “Three momma’s boys, I love it.”
“She spoiled us…” he laughed and gave a helpless shrug. “Who am I kidding? She still spoils us. It would be nice to turn it around for a change.”
“You will,” I said, whole-heartedly believed his band would be on the radio one day soon. “Last time I consulted my magic eight-ball, signs pointed to many upcoming world tours for Trojan Jedi.”
He eyeballed me quietly. I used to be able to read Cole—know exactly what he was going to say before he opened his mouth. I didn’t have that same faith in our connection any longer. He looked out at the water as he asked, “What about you? Travel a lot with your parents?”
I held back my snort. “No. My mom’s husbands never wanted me to come along and my father is a workaholic that rarely leaves the city.” I clasped my hands on my lap as I thought back to my childhood. “When my mother married husband number three, she sent me to stay with my dad for a week while she honeymooned. He promised to take some time off and we’d see all the New York tourist traps together. Instead, he hired a nanny for the week and had her schlep me around the city.”
The deck was dimly lit, but I could see Cole’s eyebrows pull together in distaste. “That’s pretty shitty. That must have done a number on you.”
I shook my head vehemently. “No. I believe in the concept of personal responsibility. Any bad choices I made in my life are mine to own up to, not my parents.” My voice turned fierce. “I did make a terrible choice by cheating on you and I’m sorry. I’m starting to believe I never told you enough how sorry I am and how much I regret what happened in Atlantic City.”
I'd made the decision to have drinks with Justin. I had led him on and the fallout from my actions had destroyed my future with Cole.
Cole's posture grew stiff and I expected him to flee at any second. “I really don’t think we should talk about this now,” he said.
I set my elbows on my knees while shifting my body to face him directly. “I know, but I miss you. I probably didn’t realize how damn much I missed you until I saw you again on the plane. But if I’m not honest with you, I know that we’ll leave this trip and that will be it for us. We won’t ever get past what happened.”
Cole groaned. “A fucking lobotomy without anesthesia sounds better than talking about Atlantic City.” He put his head in his hands and drew in a long breath before letting it out in one long shaky exhale. His dark, long eyelashes lowered as he stared at me. “Fine, let’s talk about it then.”
I turned my head back quickly to make sure our friends were still busy. They appeared to be preoccupied with a story Blake was telling and I figured Cole and I would have privacy for a few more minutes. My girlfriends seemed oblivious that I was stealing time alone with my ex. I created a steeple with my fingers and placed my hands on my lap. “I never went to Atlantic City with the intent of screwing around on you. What happened was a stupid, reckless mistake on my part and I wish I never went down there that night.”
“But you did,” he said edgily. “We have this great talk before you go about future plans and how happy we are together.” His left knee started to bounce up and down. “What wasn’t I giving you that you needed?”
He interrupted me. “Of course there was something missing. Isn’t that the fundamental reason all men and women cheat?”
I tried to keep the wobble out of my voice as I spoke. “Probably in most cases that’s true. But I’m telling you that in this incidence it was all about my issues, never you and me. I’m always my own worst enemy. I sabotaged myself and that’s why you ended up hating me.”
“Hate you?” he whispered with disbelief. “Christ Casey, do you know me at all? Didn’t you realize all this time I’ve been asking myself how
screwed us up?”
I was too afraid to meet his eyes. I felt like an errant child who had to confess to her wrongdoing and face the consequences. “I would hate me if I were you. We were perfect when I left Fairfort and then I called to drop a bomb on you,” I said. My hands started to shake as a disquieted feeling settled in my bones.
“Fine then. Tell me what happened. What changed between the moment you left and the moment you called me,” he said roughly.
“What?” I asked, my alarm growing tenfold. Maybe I should have thought out my idea of confessing. What was I willing to tell him? Would my demons truly be exorcised if I chose to be one hundred percent honest? My idea was to make him understand my regret, not to rehash the actual event. I couldn’t relive that night.
“I told you when I called the day after,” I said in a small voice.
“I remember what you said,” he said tightly. “But what did you really tell me? You slept with some guy you had met at the club. How did you get from meeting someone at a club to having sex with them in their hotel room? Was it love at first sight?”
“God no,” I mumbled.
My shadiness was irritating him and I had an apprehensive feeling I had just made things a hell of a lot worse between us. “Do you still talk to the guy? I mean, I trusted you, but I also trusted your friends. How did they let you just take off with some random stranger? I mean it seems weird that none of our friends seem to know the real reason we broke up.”