“Do I look fine?” I ask Charlotte, pivoting on the sleek black heels. I run my hands down the short sleeveless black dress Jaimie lent me. I’d never ever buy something as chic as this. But I have to admit, where the dress lacks in appropriate length, it makes up for in elegance. Or maybe that’s because I look elegant wearing it. More…like a woman. “Say something, Char. I need to know if I look like a hideous clown or I will pummel you with my wacky hammer.”
She chuckles and waves a dismissive hand at me. “You look stunning. Doesn’t she, guys?” She looks to the other two girls, and they nod, checking me out. “Hey, now! Stop checking out my sister’s goods, which you cannot have…” Her brown eyes bounce to me as she drawls, “They’re reserved for Nick.”
“Oooh,” Jaimie and Julia both encourage her ridiculous comment.
“Screw you, guys,” I spit and turn back around. I clamp down on my bottom lip and do my best to bite back the blush in my cheeks. “It’s just a date, nothing big.”
“Just a date? Yeah, right,” Julia scoffs, and I look in the mirror, giving her a pointed look. She holds up her hands and laughs defensively. “I’m just saying, I never thought I’d see you date anyone that’s not crazy-ass Grey.”
“He is not crazy,” I snap without meaning to. Why am I still defending him? Protecting his “honor?” They look at each other warily, and I let out a breath to calm myself. “Are you saying that I should just keep pining after someone who loathes me? Who, even after all I’ve done to make up for the one terrible thing I wish I could take back, would rather see me in pain than give me another chance?”
“No, of course not, Liv,” Jaimie pipes up, walking over to me and flinging an arm around my shoulder. She bares an optimistic smile as she tips my chin up. “We all want the best for you. Jules is just saying…what you and Grey had was so, I don’t know, epic…I guess? And she never expected you’d be going out with someone else.”
“I thought you two would always be together,” Julia clarifies, her dark brown eyes softening, almost as if she’s guilty. But I get what she means.
“I thought so too…” I mutter.
The room grows silent for too long.
Before anyone could get totally bummed out, Charlotte jumps off the bed, clapping her hands together. “Okay, let’s not get all reminiscent right now. Our girl is going out on her first date since forever.” She slides up behind me and slings an arm around my other shoulder, smooshing her cheek with mine; I can barely hold back a laugh. “And we are going to support and love her. Am I right, gals?”
“Yes!” Jaimie squeals, pinching my cheek.
“Eh.” Julia shrugs her shoulders.
“Jules…” Jaimie says in a warning tone.
“It’s okay, Julia.” I laugh at her ever-loving hostility toward me, even though she has definitely grown on me as time went on. I turn with the girls still clung onto me like soaked clothes to my skin and smile a Jaimie smile, hopeful and determined. “You’ll come around to Noah. It’ll take a while, but you will.”
“I don’t know,” she sighs as she stands and walks over to us, a small smile coating her lips. “The kid looks like he’s had a seven-twenty credit score since he was two.”
“Jules,” Jaimie whines, but her girlfriend just rolls her eyes.
“Not gonna lie, I thought the exact same thing,” Charlotte admits.
“Guys,” I groan, and they collectively laugh.
The doorbell rings, and we all freeze.
“Guys still do that? You know, come up to the door?” Jaimie says.
“I guess so,” I mumble, my heart in my stomach from nerves. “Well, I’ve gotta go. But I will text you guys when I’m coming back,” I say, but mostly to Jaimie and Julia. Apparently, anything romantic makes them really horny. One time, we were all just casually watching Just Like Heaven, my favorite romance movie, and next thing I knew they were making out on the bed. I had to lie and say I wanted to get something to eat from the cafeteria, but really, I had to leave before I saw what I couldn’t un-see.
They follow me downstairs, even though I tried to shoo them away multiple times. I love that they want to protect me and everything, but I am an adult. A stupid adult who has mental issues because of a failed relationship, but an adult nonetheless. Meaning I can handle anything that comes my way. And if I can’t and I get hurt, I will learn to accept it and move on. Just as I am doing right now. I’m learning that I shouldn’t live like this, so pained and unable to breathe, and moving on to something healthier. Although it feels as though I am ripping off a Band-Aid that’s made me feel safe and secure, it’s become sour and isn’t keeping my wound healed and protected. I have to get rid of it before my whole body shuts down.
I throw the front door open and gasp.
He’s wearing the same clothes he wore last night, but his shoes are in his hands, his neck is covered in hickies, and his hair is a complete mess.
“H-hey, guys.” He nervously smiles and waves using his free hand.
The girls and I gasp simultaneously.
“He did it…” Jaimie trails, eyes wide.
“The cherry’s been popped!” Julia snickers wildly, clapping her hands and ignoring her girlfriend’s attempt at shutting her up.
“Shut up, no way!” Charlotte chuckles.
“Stop it, guys.” I flash them an evil eye and gently pull Mason inside, who is as red as a tomato, maybe even redder. I shut the door after him just in case Noah pops up and sees I have an entire entourage, which would be very weird…but he knows who my friends are, so maybe he wouldn’t be too surprised. “He just lost something very important—”
“Want some help finding it?” Julia mutters, and I hit her with my shoulder. “You set yourself up with that one.”
“Hush!” I shush her, and he shyly averts his eyes. “Come in. Noah’s on his way now, but you can tell me everything that happened. You’re always here for me, and I want to do the very same—”
“Noah’s pulling up!” Jaimie announces shrilly.
“What?” I whip around and watch as Noah’s Porsche slowly pulls up in the large driveway. My blood runs cold, the nerves starting up once again. I bite my lip and turn back to Mason. “Later, okay? As soon as I get back, I want to know everything.”
“Maybe not everything,” Charlotte assures sheepishly.
I open my mouth to reassure him, yes, everything, because I kind of gave him details about my first time. At the time, he was the closest thing to me, and I couldn’t not tell him. I’m pretty sure that’s what all best friends do.
“Later, I get it. But I want to know how your date goes—” he begins.
“We all do!” the girls jump in.
Mason and I laugh, and he rolls his eyes. “Have fun, okay?”
I take a deep breath I didn’t know I needed and nod. “I will.”
He pulls me into a surprise hug, and I melt into it, wrapping my arms around him. “And remember to use protection,” he jokes in a whisper.
“I could only hope you did too,” I snip right back.
He pulls back and laughs as I do too. “Touché.”
The doorbell rings again, and we all snap our heads to it, because we know exactly who it is.
“Scatter. Go!” I shoo them away, and they stick their tongues out before going up the stairs, but I can see a peek of their bare feet on one of the stairs. They’re such—ugh! I can’t help but laugh, though, because they’re the best things to happen to me. I can’t thank God enough for them. Without them, I’d most likely be in that group home in Nebraska.
I take several breaths and plaster on what I hope is a convincing smile while opening the door.
Instantly, my eyes connect with Noah’s, and we both are at a loss for words. We each take in the other with either shock or adoration. I am mostly leaning toward shock. He is dressed in black slacks, a crisp white dress shirt, shiny black loafers, and an Armani suit jacket. He looks absolutely…ravishing. I can smell his expensive woodsy cologne from here, and my mouth waters slightly. He really does clean up nicely, huh?
“Say something, fools!” I hear Julia scream from the stairs.
Noah chuckles, and I do too, but I am blushing from the inside out, mortified.
“Sorry about that. We should…” I point behind him.
“Yeah.” He steps out, and I admire how great he looks with gelled hair. I step out too and close the door behind me, admiring his dimples. They seem to be even deeper with him dressed like this.
It’s silent again, but this time I can’t even hold back my smile.
“You look—” we both begin, stop, then laugh.
I nervously curve my hair behind my ear, and I swear he sucks in a deep breath.
“You go,” he says, but I shake my head. He nods, quickly bites his lip, then rasps, “You look…fucking amazing. Sorry, sorry—that sounded—I sound like a caveman.” Aw, he is so cute when he’s unsure of what to say.
“That’s quite all right, Noah,” I assure him, and he shakes his head, almost like he’s in a daze. “You look amazing yourself. Very…sharp.”
Can I be any more of an idiot? Sharp? Is that all you have to say, Olivia?
“Thank you, m’lady.” He bows his head slightly, and I erupt into giggles. His eyes glimmer as he straightens up to his towering height. “I wanted to look good, um, for you. Does that sound stupid? Is this stupid?” He gestures between us, and I know he’s referring to the fact that we’ve been friends for our whole childhood, and now we’re going on a date.
“No, it isn’t. I’m glad we’re doing this,” I admit shyly, rocking back and forth on my heels.
“So, we should probably get going,” he says, putting an arm on my lower back. I flush bright pink, but he is too busy nervously checking his watch to notice. So cute. “I have a reservation for…” He stops and looks at me with a half-smile. “I should probably keep that a secret, huh?”
“It’d be more suspenseful.” I shrug, mirroring his half-smile.
He rolls his eyes playfully and escorts me into the passenger seat. “Then you’ll find out what I have planned much later.”
“Can’t wait.” I wink at him, and he laughs. “Stupid,” I groan, holding my head. Hopefully, I won’t make myself out as an idiot for the rest of the night.
“Did you have a good time?” Noah asks, but I know he can tell I did by my shameless grin. I know he enjoyed himself by his ear-to-ear grin, like he just won the big jackpot: that jackpot being me.
He took me to a super fancy restaurant named Luigi’s, then took me to see a rom-com right after. It reminded me so much of…I have to take another breath to keep myself from comparing this incredibly normal, healthy night to that night.
“I had the best time, Noa—” I begin.
His lips cut me off. I quickly shut my eyes and try to melt into his chest and let myself ignite by his lips. Nothing happens, but I still kiss him back and allow myself to get used to his minty breath.
When he pulls back, he beams at me. “I did, too,” he says softly, then takes a step away, shoving his hands in his pockets, cheeks pink. “I’ll call you tomorrow.”
I nod, unable to conjure words. I watch as he jogs back to his Porsche and drives away. I stand in front of the front door for what seems like hours before Mason pulls me inside. He has me tell him every detail of the night, and I tell it as if I am relaying a magical date beyond this world. Although his eyes tell me he doesn’t believe me, he takes it all in silently, then tells me he’s happy for me. He tells me how his night with Mateo went, and I listen half-heartedly. I am just too in my head with a million thoughts to pay attention, and I have to stop him, feigning I am too tired to keep my eyes open.
As I slide under my bed covers with memories of that truly wonderful night that still has me blushing from head to toe, I close my eyes and will my brain to scratch it out and replace it with tonight. I am moving on, and with that…I have to get rid of the past.
I unlatch his charm from my wrist, my heart in my toes, and slide it under my pillow. It has been helping me get some sleep, but I will not wear it any longer. Not when it reminds me of what I can never have. Never again…