I'm Here to Fix You

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Chapter 20

SIX MONTHS LATER – CHRISTMAS’ EVE

JAKE

“Why am I doing this, again?” I grumbled for the fifth time.

Serene rolled her eyes, but still gleefully waltzed from one window to the other. Sure, she could waltz. I was the mule carrying all of her packages. Says she ought to get a Christmas gift for all of her classmates, it’s a “tradition” at Julliard. 27 people. 27 gifts. Plus those for her friends outside school. Unfortunately for me my sister is a social butterfly.

“Come on, Jakey, don’t be such a Grinch.” Serene teased as she fled to take a look at the window of a shoe shop.

I sighed, resigned to my penance. I hate Christmas, in case you were wondering. It’s not much about the past, it’s more like ... I just can’t stand all the gleeful nonsense every year. I hate more Thanksgiving, though. It’s a pretty useless feast if you ask me. Good thing in my family we don’t celebrate any of them. Except this year. Serene has decided this year Christmas exists for the Watsons too.

She’s forced me and uncle Keith to have dinner together. All three of us at the same table, celebrating Christmas. I can already prefigure the catastrophe. But then again, I’m a sucker for my sister’s pout, so ... it doesn’t really take her much to convince me to do anything for her, and uncle Keith is the same. Besides, I leave Boston quite gladly these days.

I’m not going to pine over my lost love, don’t worry. It’s fine. I pushed her into his arms, it’s only fair they’re living their story. I suppose that now that he’s moved to Boston things are even easier for them, no doubt. To be honest, I’m not sure just how much I can respect a man that would give up everything for a woman, but ... truth be told, I’d probably do the very same for her.

So, Ryan lives in Boston now. The love birds are as happy as can be, but thank heavens I don’t see them. Silvia and I have ... well, broken off every kind of contact. She still works for me, but we’re never face to face, we communicate solely via email, and I dodge every single gathering that would entail me being in the same room with her. I’ve quit hanging out with Tess for that exact reason, just not to force her to choose between me and her best friend.

Tess and Trey have been on and off for three months, then she finally ditched his sorry ass, now he’s trying to convince her to give him another chance. Paul is seeing some chick from his hometown. Fitz, he’s seeing someone, I’m pretty sure, but he won’t tell. As for Serene, she says she’ll introduce me to her boyfriend on Christmas’ Eve, but I had to swear not to touch a single hair on his head. She said she’ll cuff me if necessary. I wonder why all the precautions ... is it somebody I’ll never allow her to date?

As for me, I ... well, I’m me. A bee fertilizing flowers, as Tess says. I won’t deny it, I’ve had quite a lot to do, catching up with the numbers I did in my teenage years and early 20s. I worked out, so to speak. I’m not proud of some choices, though. For instance, having sex with Hillary was a huge, huge mistake, but ... in my defense, I was drunk, she brought a friend ... what douche would refuse a threesome?

And maybe I’ve repeated it, but ... not for her, I swear. It’s just that she tackled my weak spot sexually speaking. She keeps bringing new girls, and it’s kinda hard to say no to that. We haven’t gone past the fourth time, nor will we, I promise.

Seeing as my sister always takes age when shoe shopping, I decided to wait outside. I sat by the bench opposite to the boutique, all her bags scattered around me, and I took out my phone. Predictably, there were tons of messages from women. I’m a pretty requested booty call, you know. It’s not much gentleman-like, but when you’re like me, you don’t need to call, they do.

All these messages at 10 am in the morning are nothing, you should see the ones I start receiving by midnight. One would think, men get the reputation for being so obsessed with sex, yet I can give you at least 10 names of women that would drop everything they’re doing to have sex. With me, that is. Perks of being me.

I ignored the texts because today it’s sister-day, so no booty calls, but when, scrolling, I noticed Tess’ message about New Year’s dinner, I grimaced.

Her bright idea was organizing a New Year’s dinner just for us friends. I told her no at least 15 times, but she still won’t give up.

To Tess: What exactly makes you think I’ll gladly sit at dinner with Sir Douche?

From Tess: The fact that it was Lady Douche herself to ask of you ...

Did she now? Six months of absolute silence, now she asks of me?

To Tess: Whatever. Still no.

I’m sure Ryan’s a great, great guy, but I’m not gonna sit there watching him steal the sole woman that’s ever had me think of marriage. I know, I threw her into his arms, but that doesn’t mean I gotta witness their embrace.

From Tess: If it makes any difference, Ryan won’t be there ... he’s spending New Year’s with his family in Colorado ...

Seriously? He won’t even give her a New Year’s kiss? Not that I’m a fan of such crappy nonsense, but come on.

To Tess: Still no. And that’s final.

T: Come oooon! It’s your chance! She’ll be lonely on New Year’s Eve, she’ll need someone to kiss at midnight ...

I rolled my eyes. She’ll never give up, will she? Shippers really can be a persistent pain the ass. And no, I’m not talking about Tess only, you should know.

Me: No. N-O. Just get the hell over it, Tess. It’s not happening. Never. Nie. Mai. Just give up. I have, why can’t you?

T: Because you’re an asshole! You’re letting go of the love of your life out of a stupid principle!

Me: She’s happy with him. Let her be.

T: She’s a blind fool too. And besides, she may be happy, but she thinks of you.

Me: Oh, please ...

T: ‘have you seen Jake lately?’ ‘how’s Jake doing?’ ‘how is Jake?’ ‘where’s Jake?’ She doesn’t even realize just how many times she asks me these questions in a day.

Me: That’s just because we don’t see each other ... we’ve been friends, Tess, we both care. It’s normal.

T: NO. It’s not normal to ask of another guy while you’re on your way to see your boyfriend.

Maybe. But what Tess can’t understand is that even if such questions meant anything, it would still be a dead end. It’s not about one-sided love here. It’s about the long run. We could live the most enthralling, most passionate, most incredible months, then slowly start tearing each other apart. We could live the most beautiful love story ever told, but that wouldn’t stop us from destroying each other. It wouldn’t stop me from destroying her in the end, whether I want it or not.

There are sides of me I can’t control. There are sides to my character, to my nature, to my life, that I have little to no control over. Even only sleeping peacefully beside her would be impossible for me, imagine the rest.

Relationships aren’t solely made of sweet moments and passionate sex. Was it only for that, we’d be alright, but relationships are supposed to go way deeper than anything else, and in my case it’s impossible. There are demons that are better left where they are, you should know that by now.

I can’t promise Silvia a good life while I’m not even in control of mine. I can’t even sleep two hours straight without waking up in a sweat. How could I cuddle her through the night when I know all too well that in two hours I’ll wake her up and possibly hurt her?

Serene was only 7 when she took refuge in my bed after a bad dream ... I was asleep when she did, so I didn’t know she was there. I wound up not only scaring the hell out of her, but also twisting her wrist. And that’s nothing. I probably hurt Olivia too, but she never told. A couple of times I spotted bruises on her skin, and she invented stories about how she was so clumsy, she fell or knocked against something ... I bet she didn’t want me to worry, because I’d have known it’d been me.

You see, in my right mind, I would never lay a hand on a woman, but I can’t control my nightmares. I just can’t. And they’re as messy as it can get. Why do you think I throw out my flings right after the deed? After Olivia I’ve never once slept, actually slept with a girl. It wasn’t much about the whole it’s only sex crap, it was simply because I didn’t want to risk.

The more I go on, the worse the nightmares get, and I cannot know, I cannot be sure what’s going to happen night after night. If I punched Olivia, what keeps me from doing worse to someone else? What if in my crazed state of mind I choke my girlfriend? What if I sleep-walk to the kitchen and grab a knife? I can never know what happens, so how can I put someone in that situation?

Until it’s just me, I know it can’t be that bad. Sometimes I find bruises on my own skin, but so what? That’s nothing compared to what I could do to someone else. To say it simply, if when I’m awake I can dose my strength and control myself, when I’m in that state I can’t. I’ve lost the count of the times I’ve had to renew my furniture because of that. And it’s only getting worse and worse.

That’s why I am actually seeing a therapist. Fitz basically forced me to, but I won’t deny it turned out to be a fairly good idea. I quit seeing the prison shrink because he was entirely useless, and he agreed, so he pointed me to someone else that would report to him until the five years have passed. It was good in the beginning, but ... I wound up sleeping with my shrink, so ... had to move on to the next. In my defense, I wouldn’t have done anything, it was her to develop feelings for me.

It’s a tale as old as time with women. Either they fall for the looks, or I ignite their nurse spirit when they’re a young psychologist that’s just heard what I’ve been through.

The new one should be safe. I mean, she’s at least 10 years older than I. Not that I would mind, I’ve had my fair share of cougars and milfs, but she’s also a lesbian. No risk there, right? I didn’t ask. To be honest, I couldn’t care less whether she prefers vaginas to dicks or vice versa, but she felt the need to tell me right off the bat on our first session. I think she wanted to push me to trust her.

Ignoring Tess’ messages about how am I supposed to absolutely go to this dinner, I scrolled through the rest of my texts. Jesus, it’s like I’m a call center. Why does everybody bother me? It’s not like I’m the only person in the universe.

Amongst the rest of the texts, some from the guys, some others from the office, one or two from Amazon, delivery guys and whatnot, there was a text that confused me:

Unknown: Meet me at the gallery

What gallery? And whom am I supposed to meet? I don’t recall giving my number to any woman these past few days ... I’ve been on holiday, after all. Well, more like penance, given that I’ve been following Serene around the mall these past two days. I have 8 more left to serve. Was it up to me, I’d have flown out State or something, but ... my sister wouldn’t hear it. Says New York is so beautiful around Christmas. Gah.

To Unknown: I think you got the wrong number

I looked up to check on my sister, and there she was, still trying on shoes ... Jeez. This is a job for a boyfriend, not a brother. Times like this, I’d be ever so glad to have her date someone, at least she’d have some mannequin to take with her instead of bother me. Truth be told, she has it, but ‘it’s Christmas’ Eve, Jakey! We gotta be together!′ she said. Ugh.

Unknown: Come on, Jackie, it was funny the first time, now no ... I’m in a hurry!

I frowned when I read the text. Jackie?

To Unknown: It’s Jake. I’m pretty sure I’m still a man, thank you very much.

Unknown: Oh my gosh! I’m so sorry! I thought it was my friend Jackie! I must have typed the wrong number! So sorry!!!

I sighed. It’s not like this hasn’t happened before. It’s a trick a girl or two used in high school. The oh my gosh I typed the wrong number but casually wound up texting my crush. So original, really.

But this isn’t high school, and, to be honest, I can’t keep count of the women that foolishly crush on me, so I have no idea who could it be. For all I know it might be one of Serene’s friends, or her roommate, or hell, even the waitress of the deli we ate at today. How am I supposed to know? It could be a guy even. Hell, modestly speaking, I’m kinda popular amongst gay men as well. Again, perks of being me.

To Unknown: No problem

I leaned back on the bench, given that my sister had decided to spend the rest of her day in that damn shoe shop. I dropped my head back as I sprawled my arms, letting the mild sunrays that seeped through the glass ceiling hit my face. I’m fine. Really, I am. I mean, I’m fine for what it concerns my love pains, the rest is ... well, still the same mess, if not worse. But I’m fine sentimentally speaking. I’m happy for her, I really am.

My phone buzzed in my pocket, so I fished it.

Unknown: OMG I just had the most awkward moment ever! Where the heck are you?!

I rolled my eyes.

To Unknown: Still male Jake here ...

Unknown: OH GOSH!!! I’m so clumsy!! Sorry!!!

Too many exclamations marks for my liking. Someone that texts like that is even too much of a talker.

To Unknown: It’s fine. At least tell me your name ...

Unknown: Elise 😊

Me: Well, Elise, you must have saved the wrong number. Contact your friend on some social network and fix it.

Subtitle: I don’t have time nor will to keep doing this.

Unknown: Yes, I will!

Good. Now, where was I? Right. I was saying, I’m fine sentimentally speaking. Perfectly alright. Yeah, it kinda hurts now and then, but nothing I can’t handle. Or rather, nothing an hour of two of sex with a faceless stranger or a bottle of vodka can’t help with. I’m even going more to the gym lately.

Okay ... maybe I’ve gone back to fighting. But it’s legal this time, I swear. Last time it was boundless and ruthless street fighting in a circle that was most certainly run by the Russian mob, this time it’s just ... legal MMA. MMA stands for Mixed Martial Arts, in case you were wondering. It’s mostly boundless too, but there are blows that aren’t allowed, and opposite to illegal street fighting here the referee intervenes the moment it seems you might be breaking your opponent’s arm. In the illegal circle you can get to killing the poor guy and they’re just there laughing.

I won’t deny I like fighting. It gives me that adrenaline rush I need to feel alive. It’s something neither sex or alcohol can give me, it’s a feeling nothing else can offer me. Believe me, there’s nothing that makes you feel more alive than being pinned down on the floor while a muscled giant beating the crap out of you. Every blow, every drop of blood you spill is the very proof that yes, you’re human, you’re bleeding, you’re still stalking this Earth.

From Unknown: Jake, how old are you?

What?

To Unknown: Too old for you if you’re asking this question

Unknown: Well, for all I know you might be some creepy 50-something dude! I have a right to know who I entrust my sweet-cheeks to!

To Unknown: Your what?

Unknown: I’m so sorry!! That was my friend Jackie! She’s so crazy!! I didn’t mean to disturb you!!

Oh, sweet joy, what have I gotten into? Kids nowadays ...

To Unknown: It’s fine. But why was your friend asking me that, ‘sweet-cheeks’?

Since I’m stuck here, I may as well find a way to have fun. Aimless chatting with a stranger can’t hurt, can it? Just how much trouble can I get into for texting some girl living who knows where? I better save her number, though.

Elise Sweet-Cheeks: I’d rather not say ^_^

Don’t mind the name. I have at least three Elises on my contact lists. I can’t remember all the female contacts I have, it’s easier saving them with nicknames and whatnot. It’s not like I can call them Booty Call 1,2,3,4 and so on. In my defense, I save everyone with nicknames. Guess who was Angel with Horns and now became Bane of My Existence?

Me: let me guess, she thought it’d be fun to text some random stranger? Haven’t you kids ever heard the term stranger danger?

Elise Sweet-Cheeks: YES! I told her it was insane!! What if he’s a murderer or something!!!!

Me: ...

Elise Sweet-Cheeks: Not that you are!! But still!!!!

Me: Please, for the love of God, no more than one exclamation mark per sentence.

Elise Sweet-Cheeks: you’re funny xD

Me: No, I’m serious.

Elise Sweet-Cheeks: LOL

Me: How old are you, Elise?

Elise Sweet-Cheeks: 20

Phew. At least I’m not risking pedophile charges. Not that this is leading anywhere, but these days you can get arrested even only for checking out a 16-year-old in the street, and with my not so immaculate record ...

Me: So old enough to drive but not to drink ... it sucks, I know.

Elise Sweet-Cheeks: Well, I’m teetotal so who cares :D

Me: Seriously? Alcohol is like ... the eight wonder, the next best thing after sex.

Elise Sweet-Cheeks: I wouldn’t know ... I’m kinda virgin ^_^

Huh. I hadn’t considered that. Either my radar is off or via phone it doesn’t work.

Elise Sweet-Cheeks: It’s not a problem for you, is it?

Huh?

Me: Why would it be?

Elise Sweet-Cheeks: Well ... every guy I’ve gone out with, it’s a deal breaker for them ... I mean, even if we date, when I say I want to wait they flee ...

Me: That means you date douchebags. Quit dating douchebags and you’ll be fine.

Elise Sweet-Cheeks: awww that’s so sweet of you to say 😊

Me: And for the record, this ... conversation here, it means nothing. I’m not flirting, Elise. Let’s be clear.

You never know, apparently even if I merely talk some women take it as I’m trying to take them to bed. Sometimes it’s really frustrating. News flash, ladies: just because a guy talks to you, doesn’t mean he’s hitting on you. Sometimes even womanizers like to have a normal conversation that won’t lead to sex.

Elise Sweet-Cheeks: I didn’t think you were ... I just wanted to make it clear because usually guys get upset if I don’t say it upfront ...

Just what kind of morons does she date normally?

Me: Well, the most you’ll get from me is a laugh, so no harm done. Besides, I like virgins, they’re way more enterprising than one would think ... ;)

They also bring way more trouble than you bargained for, but I wasn’t gonna tell her that, of course.

Elise Sweet-Cheeks: you’re funny xD

Me: you’re the first one to say that

Elise Sweet-Cheeks: LOL

Elise Sweet-Cheeks: so, what do you do for a living, Jake??? and hey, you didn’t tell me your age! You’re not really a 50-something creep, are you???

Me: If the exclamation marks unnerved me, the massacre of question marks burns my eyes. Please, stop. And no, I’m not a ‘50-something’ creep, but I’m still too old for you, ‘sweet-cheeks’.

Elise Sweet-Cheeks: I thought this ‘conversation’ led to nothing ...

Me: I know women get strange ideas with me, so I like to be clear right off the bat.

Elise Sweet-Cheeks: well, I’m not looking for a date, so ... how old are you?

Aside from the evident problems with punctuation, she seems kinda interesting, I gotta be honest.

Me: 29

Elise Sweet-Cheeks: that’s not really old

Me: it is if you’re a 20-year-old virgin

Elise Sweet-Cheeks: hey, some girls like to wait for the right guy, what’s wrong with that?

Me: Nothing. Then why don’t you tell that to your dates when they get upset?

Elise Sweet-Cheeks: that’s different ...

Me: because you’re involved with them while I’m just a random stranger you’ll never meet, yes, but still ... you gotta make clear you own it, honey, otherwise they’ll never respect you.

Elise Sweet-Cheeks: thanks 😊

She seems really sweet. If only she knew who was she talking to. When I looked up, I noticed Serene was finally coming out of the shop ... with at least four more bags in her hands. Dear me, the bill’s gonna be never-ending at the end of the month. Stupid of me to give her my credit cards, but like I said, there’s virtually nothing she can’t persuade me to do.

“Done?” I asked, daring to hope.

My sister grinned evilly as she dropped the bags onto my lap. “Just one more pit-stop then we can go.”

I groaned. “You gotta be kidding me ... I can’t even carry all these bags. I’ll need a truck or something.”

She ignored me, of course, just blabbed something about getting two last gifts. The most I heard was her telling me to wait here because the gifts she was to get were one for me, the other for her boyfriend, so I can’t see. Fine with me.

Checking my phone, I noticed another text from this Elise girl:

So where do you live, Jake?

Me: Seriously, didn’t anyone ever warn you about stranger danger?

Elise Sweet-Cheeks: LOL but you don’t seem dangerous :D

Me: what if I’m an ex convict that went to jail for attempted murder?

Elise Sweet-Cheeks: did you serve your time?

Me: partly, I was released on good behavior

Elise Sweet-Cheeks: then it’s ok 😊

Me: seriously? I just told you I nearly killed a man and you smile?

Elise Sweet-Cheeks: LOL I know you’re kidding

Right. Of course she wouldn’t believe me.

Elise Sweet-Cheeks: then, even so, you’ve atoned for your sins, that’s enough for me

Huh. Now I understand why the whole ‘I want to wait’ thing. She’s a church girl.

Me: whatever ... I live in Boston, what about you?

I suppose I better veer the conversation onto safer topics. It’s funny, though. Every time I say I’m a bad, bad, bad guy, people just smile and say ‘nah, you’re just too hard on yourself’. Seriously? You don’t even know what I’ve done.

Let alone the reason why I went to jail, what about the rest? I used to steal cars when I was 16, but that’s nothing. I did it to piss off my uncle. I got into every sort of mainstream ‘bad boy’ trouble at that age for that exact reason, but sole result I got was getting labeled as, obviously, school’s bad boy. So very cliché.

At the age of 18 I killed my mom. At the age of 21 I got into street fighting, which I quit only when I was 23. The Bonecrusher, they called me. It’s really easy to presume why. In my ‘career’ as street fighter I’ve fought over 200 hundred matches, winning them all. I could have made a lot of money out of that, but I rejected it all, and my ‘sponsor’ was very much glad to keep it.

I won 200 matches out of 200, like I said. 25 of these were to quasi death, meaning that I nearly sent the guy to the Underworld. There was no referee, the only judge was the crowd, and as you can easily guess, the crowd always sentenced the loser to death. It was very much like The Gladiator, really.

I got to the brink of murder 5 times, stopping right before the guy breathed his last. I broke an arm, or a leg, or a couple of ribs 44 times. I caused a concussion 21 times. I caused temporary coma 6 times. For 11 times I stood there and took everything, but it was never enough.

At the age of 22 I got hooked on drugs. Yeah, you didn’t see that one coming, did you? It was only cocaine at first, then it became heroin. It took me 4 years to get cleaned up, jail actually helped in this. Ever since a giant from Nebraska broke my back four months ago, I started being addicted to morphine, which I use merely after particularly tough fights, so it’s not really a big deal. If cigarettes count as drugs, then I’ve got that one too, but I’m trying to quit, be it only because I’ve had enough of Tess and Serene bursting my eardrums about it.

Ah, according to my new therapist I’m AA material as well, but she probably exaggerates. Just because I’m drunk one night every two, doesn’t mean I’m a pathological case.

Last but not least, at the age of 26 I attempted to willfully kill the piece of crap that tried to rape my sister. Hadn’t a group of 5 football players been passing by, I would have literally beaten him to death. To this day and hour I regret not making it. To this day and hour, I would finish the job if I had the chance. No remorse.

Serene is the purest, most innocent soul ever existed, Dave Murray tried to take away said innocence, so he got what he deserved. I will never forget the day I found my baby sister crouched in a corner, her dress torn, her pale skin bruised, her tears never-ending.

She was only 17. She moved to New York to attend Julliard, having graduated a year in advance. I didn’t want her to live alone, so I went with her. Turns out it served to nothing, I still failed to protect her.

So you see, my dear Elise ‘Sweet-Cheeks’, you have no idea whom are you dealing with, and you shouldn’t be so carefree about it.

However, while I was on my trip down memory lane, she texted me again:

Elise Sweet-Cheeks: OMG! Really?? I live in Boston too! We should totally hang out!

Elise Sweet-Cheeks: I meant it!

Elise Sweet-Cheeks: Jake? You still there?

Elise Sweet-Cheeks: Heeeeeey there? Jake??

She reminds me of my sister.

Me: Still here. And no, hanging out is an awful idea.

Elise Sweet-Cheeks: Why? 😞

Me: Let’s see, I’m 9 years older than you. You’ve never met me, so for all you know I might be a serial killer. I’m a womanizer, you’re a virgin, our world just can’t mix.

Elise Sweet-Cheeks: LOL you’re not a serial killer xD

Me: How would you know?

Elise Sweet-Cheeks: Just a feeling ... ;)

I can’t deny I smiled. She seems sweet. Too sweet for me.

Elise Sweet-Cheeks: So ... we don’t need to hang out if you don’t want us to, but maybe we can still talk? I’ve saved your number :D

Well, I guess chatting doesn’t hurt, does it?

***

SILVIA

NEW YEAR’S EVE

“I tried to switch flights, but it was impossible. All booked until Thursday.”

I smiled as he pouted through screen. “It’s okay, babe, really.”

“You should have come ...” Ryan mentioned for the umpteenth time.

“It’s a family gathering. A tradition of yours. I would have been completely out of place.” I argued.

“You’re my girlfriend. You’re never out of place.”

How sweet. “Well ... then let’s say it’s a bit early to meet the family ...” Six months. Well, eight if we count the ones before that tiny break that lasted barely 24 hours. It means we’re really serious, but it’s still too early to be official in that sense.

Ryan moved to Boston, yes, but we don’t live together. My parents know about him, his parents know about me, his grandma has given us her blessing, I’ve met his friends, he’s met mine, but ... still not enough to take such a huge step as meeting the family is.

Ryan pouted. “Mmh ... okay ... it still sucks, though. I wanna kiss you at midnight.”

I smiled. “I didn’t peg you for the traditional type.”

He scoffed. “I’m not. I just wanna kiss you.” He grinned impishly. “And ... do a few other R-rated things to you ...”

I bit my lip, thinking of our great moments together. No, no sex yet. But ... that doesn’t mean no foreplay. We made a deal, Ryan and I. When I told him I was a virgin, he said he’d wait for as long as I needed, but I pointed out that I was perfectly ready to have sex ... he said he didn’t want me to rush, so we made a deal. If by January 1st we’re still together, we’ll do it.

At first I thought it was silly because, I mean, we made this deal that it was August, it would be a long wait, but he had a point when he said our relationship would more easily progress if we didn’t insert the sexual side just yet. And he was right. We’ve done a lot, lot, lot of progress. But hey ... we both have needs, and just because I’m a virgin, doesn’t mean I’m innocent. Foreplay is fun, can’t deny it, but I can’t wait for the new year to start ...

“Only 24 hours left ...” I mentioned, biting my lips as my eyes raked over his hard chest.

Ryan chuckled. “Easy there ... don’t X-Ray me just yet. We’ve got time.”

“Really, how do you resist? I’d have jumped your sexy bones eons ago already.”

He laughed. “And that comes from a virgin?”

“I think I’ve showed what this virgin can do ...” I licked my lips seductively, knowing he’d groan, uncomfortable, in fact he averted his gaze.

“That’s mean, babe ... you know how hard it is for me.”

“Hey, it was your choice.”

“I did it for a good reason.”

“Yes, yes, and I agree ... but ... hmmm, damnit, I want you, Ryan. Right now.” I actually had to press my legs.

He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, which is what he does when he’s trying to resist to impure thoughts about me. “This night’s gonna be infernal ...”

I laughed. “Think positive. Tonight by this hour we’ll be together ... nakedly together.”

He grinned, biting his lips as his blue eyes raked over my body. “You’re lucky I’m miles away, otherwise I’d have anticipated the date.”

“Mmh, doing it on New Year’s would have been quite romantic ...”

“Don’t tease me, babe ...”

I laughed, and he did the same, causing me to lose myself in the brightness of his gorgeous face. “I love you so much, Rye.”

He grinned, his eyes twinkling. “I love you too, babe.” He sighed. “Well, I better go. My cousin’s looking for me. I’ll call you right before midnight, okay?”

“I can’t wait.”

We ended the Skype call, and I sighed. I’m not sure just how much I can take of this. I’ve never thought life could go this well for me. I’m happy. Ryan and I are so happy together that it’s totally bananas.

“Get that lovesick ass up, they’re here.” Tess grumbled. She’s in an awful mood tonight ... must be because Trey’s gonna come to the dinner, and he most certainly won’t be alone. I told her not to invite him, but she said they’re trying to be friends, for the sake of the group. Ugh.

Closing my laptop, I sighed, and stood, grudgingly heading to the living room. They were all already there. Predictably, Tess and Trey were fighting, but surprisingly, he’d come on his own. Paul introduced me to his date, and Colin offered me a tight smile. I don’t think the guy likes me ... it figures, I did kinda break his best friend’s heart.

Because Tess was too busy half fighting, half making out with her ex, I went to open the door when the doorbell rang. I knew full well who would it be, that’s why I took a deep breath before opening.

Before me, I found the most dumbfounding sight.

“Hey ...” Jake greeted awkwardly. He cleared his throat, hinting at the redheaded perky girl at his arm. “Uh ... this is Elise. She is ... uh ...”

“His girlfriend!”

Huh. I definitely didn’t see that one coming.

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