Valentina Bound - Book 1

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In the Spirit of Things

After fucking until the sun rises, Tommy falls asleep. I manage to sneak out, leaving a note thanking him for a great night and grateful to be in a cab on my way home to my bed. The nice thing about the school break is, it’s my chance to enjoy the apartment all to myself and I don’t have to explain to Jodi where I have been. Also grateful again that I don’t have to work until 6pm. So I shower my sin away like a good Catholic and grab my eye mask and fall fast asleep.

I remain in a state of confusion these next few days. There is a part of me that is happy to be back in my rhythm. Then there is a part of me that watches the door, hoping to see Tommy walk through it. This kind of diversion over winter break is not that big of an issue, but I need to pull it together by the time winter break ends. So as each day passes, I look for Tommy less and less.

December 24, my day starts with cooking four turkeys, three rib roasts, two hams and one very large tray each of stuffing and two trays of my famous mac-n-cheese. Mikey finds it all too gratifying to smash the potatoes.

“A bit frustrated?” I tease him.

“I just want a normal Christmas, you know?”

“I do know.”

Mikey is here in California alone, what little family he has is back in Alabama, he has no desire to go home for the holidays. From the stories he as shared about his childhood, I can see why. It’s sad to hear of his upbringing, or in his case, lack there of. At least my propulsion into independence at a young age still came with much love and support. Mikey is the oldest boy of a very dysfunctional family, the street raised him. After watching too many of his friends get hauled off to juvy or overdose, he fled home and moved to California. I know his time here has not been easy. Often late nights after everyone is gone, Mikey opens up to me. He likes that I still look at him the same, even after sharing with me what he considers the darker side of himself. We all have a darker side, anyone who tells you they don’t are lying to you and themselves. After Nate, I purposefully stay late every night I can to be with Mikey, we have grown closer over the last few months. He is so creative and smart, I am always nagging him to give school a shot. He is selling himself short and it breaks my heart. Yet I understand, growing up in chaos, it’s nice to actually have a steady routine life. Berkeley is more forgiving of a social society than the rest of California, a lot of women want to know Mikey, he just needs to believe his is good enough.

“I don’t want a woman that is looking for someone to save.” He says when I ask why he doesn’t date.

I get it. Often my turn off about Benji is that it feels like he is always trying to fix me. Especially when I don’t think I am so broken. We are all a bit in pieces, it’s what makes each of us a bit more interesting. Growing up is learning to love every piece of us, it is the only way to free us of judgment.

“Hey, why don’t you come down to my parents’ house with me? You can sleep on the couch in the living room. On the way down to my parents we can stop at a Circle K and pick up fun joke gifts for my clan from you.”

Ever since watching and episode of Family Ties, where Michael J. Fox’s character gets his family gifts from the 7-11 after he realizes the true spirit of Christmas, I stole the idea. I would sneak out on Christmas Eve night and buy my family funny gifts from Circle K and fill their stockings.

“That sounds so appealing, but you know I can’t leave Boss to do all this on his own. There are always a few drunks that need to be handled. Then the clean-up. It’s not fair for one man to handle it all.”

“Way to make a girl feel bad.”

“Don’t be silly, we do this because we don’t have family and we get it. You have a great family; feel blessed, not guilty.”

“Yes, sir.”

Mikey rolls his eyes at me and shakes his head. Mashing the potatoes even more vigilantly. It’s quite the sight to see such a big man in this small kitchen, the apron barely covers him. The sweetest sight to start Christmas with. He and Boss decorated the entire bar, it’s so festive. They do an amazing job every year, especially with the tree. It’s huge and decorated with so many memories. Over the years the customers have sent or brought Boss ornaments from all over the world. They also send ones that their children have made. So much history and love hangs from those branches.

“I am blessed Mikey, I know this.” He likes this response better and smiles now as he smashes.

I don’t have much spare currency as a student, but for years I have been Mickey and Boss’s secret Santa. I always get them the necessities; socks, underwear, toothbrushes and other fun things they need and would never bother to get for themselves. Then I get them both something fun that only someone who knows them would know to get these gifts. For instance, I know that Mikey loves cup-o-noodle soup from his childhood, so I get him a case. Or that Boss loves to read so I always find a few amazing classics that I know every avid reader must own. Keep it personal. I may be rumored as a man-eater, but I am a big, gushy heart at the end of the day. I know what my boys need and want, so I love spoiling them. Before I leave to go home for Christmas Eve, I hide presents for the boys and a few choice customers under our tree. I love that they all pretend that Santa brought them their gifts, allowing me my moment.

“Delivery for Valentina?” A strange voice cries out from the door of the bar. I am fully committed to stuffing my third turkey so it’s Mikey that has to investigate.

“Again Boss, when we rock a chic’s world, do we get presents?” Mikey teases as he walks into the kitchen carrying a pile of wrapped gifts.

“Only if you fuck up, then you get a present nine months later.” Boss teases at Mikey. This shuts Mikey up rather quickly.

Of course as considerate as Tommy is, he has gifts for the boys, as well, a nice bottle of scotch and a box of cigars for each of them. As for me, a few wrapped boxes to put under my tree. This I can handle. It feeds my ego without feeding my commitment issues. He is thinking of us all, mainly me, but he is nice and busy and can’t bother me today. I am a woman, I am allowed to be complicated. I don’t want a relationship right now, but all this attention feels so good.

“So I can give your unappreciative ass’s gift away.” I tease the whining men.

“What gift?”

“Oh, he has a gift for you and Boss, too, in this pile.”

“Get out of here!”

“I plan to, once the last turkey is in the oven.”

“You know what I mean. I told you this guy is a keeper.”

“And I told you if you are so into this guy, you date him.”

“Girl, you need to check yourself, this kind of guy only comes around once in a while. He is pulling all the right stuff; even I am impressed. And he is the kind of look that all you ladies like. So don’t be a fool. Give this guy a shot.”

“I know you are right, I am just scared. What if he breaks my heart? Or worse yet, what if he distracts me and I fail my senior year?”

“First of all, if he breaks your heart, we break his legs. Second of all, you are so smart that you can not attend class the rest of this school year and still graduate with honors.”

“Thanks Mikey for having such faith in me. It means a lot to me.”

“Val, you are so much more than you give yourself credit for. I don’t know where it comes from because I’ve met your parents and they are pretty cool and do nothing but praise you. Either way, you need to fix that. You are too amazing to be so insecure. Real men don’t want an insecure woman, we want a woman that commands our world. One that makes us feel like a king but helps us run our kingdom, knowing that we couldn’t do any of it without her.”

“Thanks Mikey, I hear you, I do. It’s not that I am insecure, it’s because I don’t want to ruin my one shot at life. I want to get it right and be able to give my family and I the comfort we deserve. But in the spirit of the holiday season, I promise you I will try to channel more of you. And I will give this guy a chance, although I am secretly hoping he will get distracted when he gets home and forgets me.”

“You are one twisted woman, you need to see a therapist about that. We guys are starting to worry about you. It’s not normal to be this pessimistic towards love. Especially since you are one of the most giving women I know. You are too good not to be appreciated.”

“I am very appreciated; by my family and you all. I don’t need a man to appreciate me to make me know my self-worth.”

“No, but you deserve to be bathed in all the fancy love this man can give you. I can see that even in the little time you have given him has shifted you. Not that you need to be changed, because you are practically perfect as is. I just like seeing this spring in your step that he seems to have given you. I want you happy. I love you and only want the best for you,”

“I love you too, Mikey!” I give him the biggest hug.

After giving Boss and update on timing of the food in the ovens, I give him hugs and kisses too. I grab my gifts from Tommy and my overnight bag and head home. My family will surely distract me from all of this. I need to walk away now before Mikey convinces me to see Tommy again.

Christmas at my parents always is so much fun. We didn’t have a lot of money, but my parents made sure we never felt it. They focus more on the spirit of Christmas than the value of what is under the tree. They collect funny gifts they see us admiring all year long then wrapped each gift separately so it feels like we have a lot. One time I received a dozen lip glosses that I am sure came in one package but they opened the package and wrapped each of them individually. We didn’t care because really the unwrapping was our favorite part growing up. So long after we stopped believing in Santa, my parents became the present Fairy: Valentine’s Fairy, Birthday Fairy, Easter Fairy and Christmas Fairy. When we awake on the morning of these occasion, there are always balloons, flowers and funny gifts from our fairies. I will never to let go of this fairy tradition and now that I am older, I get to be the fairy too. I appreciate the way my parents keep such traditions going and that they don’t fill the stockings until I get home the night of Christmas Eve, when I get to add my fairy gifts to our stockings. Everyone is asleep when I finally get home, traffic was brutal. Mom leaves me dinner in the oven, so spoiled. Home made Italian dinner and red wine is exactly what the doctor ordered.

Christmas morning, I wake up early and sneak downstairs to call Nate. My parents never allowed a phone in our bedroom, not because they didn’t trust us, they just feel the bedroom is for rest and not distraction. So in this house all cell phones are docked at the door. I feel like a little girl again, sitting on the stool in the kitchen on the phone, twirling the phone cord around as I talk.

“Merry Christmas,” Nate answers the phone.

“Merry Christmas to you, too!”

“Thank you for the Yankee tickets and hats for my dad and me, you shouldn’t have.” One of the friends that I made when I was in New York City this summer works for the Yankees, so I pulled a favor. Two tickets for opening day next season. Now with the news of his mom not doing well, I am even happier that I got these. “And thank you for the beautiful pajamas for my mom. It’s all she really ever gets to wear these days, and these make her feel pretty again.”

“I just thought with all that’s going on, that you and your dad could go out and have a nice time together. Something to look forward to. So when April comes around, it’s Christmas all over again.”

“I can’t thank you enough. I have a feeling we will need the distraction down the line.”

“Remember to take a picture of your mom in her pajamas and send it to me. I am sure she looks beautiful no matter.”

“I am just grateful she gets one last Christmas with us.”

“Are you sure you are okay?”

“Yes, don’t let me drag your Christmas down. We are all doing okay. The hospital has had a grievance counselor coming to see us for the last few weeks now. Although it will all hurt something awful when she does pass, we are learning to make the most of our time together. My mom doesn’t want all the poison in her system anymore, especially since it’s not working. She wants to live out her last few weeks as much herself as she can. And when things get unbearable, they will introduce morphine so that she isn’t in a lot of pain.”

“You are so brave, I am so proud of you.”

“Well, don’t be too proud yet. I can talk the big talk because we just had the counselor here yesterday. Tomorrow I may be a different person.”

“You won’t be, you are the best and you will always be the best. How about I call you tomorrow to cheer you up?”

“You can send pictures of you dancing on the bar, that will cheer me up.”

“Ha, ha, ha.”

“Ho, Ho, Ho!”

“Merry Christmas, my dear friend. Kisses to both your parents.”

“Besos!”

Before I am able to let the sadness of Nate’s circumstance get to me, the kitchen fills up fast with bodies. I love being home and with my family for Christmas. Just like Triple Rock, my dad’s bar has a long standing tradition of including the neighborhood at Christmas. We always open the bar for Christmas Day lunch and all are welcome. We start cooking in the morning and open the doors around two, so already family starts arriving to help. We will get a steady flow of people, most of whom don’t have family nearby or at all, so we all become family to one another. Many bring my parents gifts as they did when we were little. We have the entire Italian clan in the kitchen, my grandparents and aunts and uncles all shouting in Italian at one another. This is how a day of gratitude and giving should be spent.

“And I see your true colors, shining through.” I begin to sing. We love to sing in our house.

“I see your true colors, and that’s why I love you.” Stella joins my singing.

“So don’t be afraid to let them show, your true colors, true colors are beautiful. Like a rainbow.” My mom still has the prettiest voice out of us all.

Then there is my favorite moment. My grandparents, aunts and uncles start singing Italian holiday songs. The cooking process moves quicker when we are all so distracted. I am just happy that none of my extended family is giving me a hard time about not having a boyfriend. Which they do every year.

“Tu scendi dalle stelle o Re del cielo…e vieni in una grotta al freddo e al gelo…And You come in a cave in the cold, in the frost…Oh, my Divine Baby I see you trembling here.”

An Italian family that sings and cooks together, stays together. And suddenly, our small family is the Grand Canyon.

“Last Christmas, I gave you my heart but the very next day, you gave it away. This year, to save me from tears I'll give it to someone special.” Stella’s favorite Christmas song. How is the best Christmas song ever so heart wrenching?

As I hoped, my family manages to quiet Tommy in my head. After spending a few hours feeding the neighborhood, I finally get the courage to open Tommy’s gift. I open his gift secretly, not ready to share him with my family since I am not sure what to do with him myself. One gift was purely practical, a gift certificate to our pizza place with a note saying, “It’s almost like having a date, but not quite.” The second is a beautiful charm bracelet with a few charms; a ballerina, a artist's palette and a paint brush. No narration necessary, the gift says, I know you already and I want to know you more. I guess now he will want to fill the rest of the bracelet with charms that commemorate our getting-to-know-each-other-better moments. Back in high school I dreamt of getting a gift so thoughtful. I need to channel that high school senior when I write him a thank you note.

“Thank you for always making it home.” Dad kisses my forehead as he and I stand side by side doing dishes.

“How could I miss all of this? Even the mock version at Triple Rock doesn’t touch this.” I assure my father.

“I know you have been up at school for years now but I still haven’t gotten used to you being gone so much. You are the best bar back ever, and I miss that.”

“I miss you, too. The clan is like no other, I am proud to be a Perotti!”

“I still can’t tell when you are trying to be funny or not.”

“I am trying to make you laugh. Have fun. Don’t be too serious all the time.”

“Wait? Did YOU accuse me of being so serious? Wow! Okay, to my defense, I have to balance your mom somehow, she is the one so busy having fun that she forgets to pay the bills.”

“You have always been fun with us, dad. And you and I are great about balancing the serious role. You and me versus Mom and Stella.”

“I just want to be a great dad.”

“You are the best dad. Please know that. We bartenders meet crazy people all day, right? Well, compared to all of those crazies we meet, you are the best.”

“Thanks? Maybe?”

“Absolutely. You see I can't even make fun of it, because there is no humor in such beauty. And you have raised us ladies in beautiful love, beautiful play, beautiful fun and all gift wrapped in a beautiful life.”

“How is it that my child gives me the best talks? I hope someday I can return the favor.”

“I love you, daddy.”

“I love you, V. You are my greatest mistake.”

When my father proposed to my mother, he wanted to help my mom’s band succeed. He even used his connections in Seattle and Chicago to help them get gigs. Once I came into the picture, all this disappeared. I wasn’t supposed to happen until after my mother became a music sensation. Again, my parents assumed I was asleep when they spoke of these things. Now, after mostly loving and playful times, we can joke about it all.

“Only you can say that and fill my heart with love instead of damaging me. You have skills, Dad!”

“Yeah, mad skills.” We both laugh and throw soap suds at one another. I love that I am my father’s daughter.

I hate leaving home, but I know that things will start gearing up for New Year’s at Triple Rock. I have managed to keep my focus on holiday traditions and family fun versus Tommy. Having Emily and Jojo with me these next few weeks at Triple Rock will also help to keep my mind off of Tommy.

“Oh my God!” We three girls squeal. There is something that takes over our minds and bodies when girls see each other again after a substantial period of time.

“You ladies don’t even know how excited I am to have you guys here!” I scream.

It’s nice to have some estrogen to balance all of this testosterone. Emily graduated from Berkeley a few years before me and worked at Triple Rock her entire time at Berkeley. Now she is dancing for a traveling contemporary dance company that has her in and out of a different city every few weeks. Jojo, graduated last year and after an unsuccessful attempt at finding work as a dancer, she recently moved back home to Baltimore and is now teaching dance and dating her childhood crush. I am so happy for them both and beyond excited to have them both with me. We kick off the night with a few of our old routines on the bar. It’s also a nice ego boost to see how the place fills up, knowing we would perform as we do every year since Emily started the tradition years ago.

After our third song, I notice a figure standing in the back. It’s Tommy. My heart catches a beat, and almost throws me off beat.

“Did you see the hottie in the back watching us?” Emily asks as we move from the top of the bar to behind the bar.

“Boy did I! Where is he from?”

“Jojo, that’s Mr. Stanford.” I try not to sound so possessive.

“Oh, I see. He wasn’t watching us, he was watching you,” Emily teases.

“Oh I am sure he was appreciating us all, he is a man at the end of the day.” I respond, trying to sound disinterested. Of course I suck at it.

“Wait, he is the Mr. Stanford from The EndUp? How do you know? And why am I only hearing about this now.”

“He just happened along at the start of winter break. The second night he came around I finally got the courage to ask him if he was Mr. Stanford.”

“Was that before or after you slept with him.”

“Jojo!”

“What? Remember who taught you to tango.”

“You were a great teacher, and to answer your question, after.”

“My best student to date! Or not to date, I guess, is more of what I taught you.” We both laugh.

When I broke up with Benji, Jojo made it her mission to teach me how to play the field. Best way to guarantee no more heartbreaks. College is meant for freedom of exploration not captivity, is her motto. Although now she is captivated by her man back in Baltimore. Who is flying in on New Year’s Eve and we all can’t wait to see who finally made honest woman out of this wild child.

“Well, I have no idea why you are hanging out with the likes of us back here behind the bar when you have that waiting for you on the other side,” offers Jojo.

“Because I have been waiting all semester for the two of you to return. I am too excited to be distracted by a silly boy.”

“Uh-huh,” they respond in unison. Luckily the bar is busy so they can’t harass me for too long.

I keep looking up to make sure Tommy is still here. He is shooting pool, hustling of course. Those poor drunk souls, they have no clue what they are up against. Tommy, of course, instead of taking the poor bloke’s money insists the guy buys a round for their audience. Making him even more popular around the pool table than he already is. Once the bar is running steady, I decide that it’s time to dethrone the king once again.

“You know, emasculating a man is not the best way to impress him,” Tommy says as I walk up and rack the balls, claiming my turn against him.

“Maybe you should try beating me this time, then.”

“If I win, you let me take you out after work. If you win, I will head home with my tail between my legs?”

“You are on; prepare to be emasculated.” So the dilemma is, do I let him win so we can go home together or do I beat him as badly as the night before?

Of course those were my famous last words. Tommy spanks me as if we were back in Sausalito and he had me bent over the sofa in front of him. I see he was holding out on me the last time we played. This, of course, only makes me play better. I take round two. Between our banter and Tommy’s generosity, a crowd grows around us. We hear shouts about Team Tommy versus Team Valentina. I am a little hurt that so many of my tried and trues are on his side. I am quickly distracted from them with my eagerness to beat Tommy. Not sure if I beat Tommy 4-2 or if he let me beat him, either way, I am happy and tipsy at this point and all I want is Tommy. So before he could challenge me to another game, I place my pool stick on the table and kiss him. This time it’s my tongue that explores his and my body that commands his attention. We ignore the whistles and claps of our audience. Instead, we take full pleasure in our kiss. I look up to get the okay from Emily and Jojo, then lead Tommy outside.

Without words we get into his car and head to my apartment. This time I am too eager to fuck him to wait the half hour drive to Sausalito. As he drives, I find my way into his pants. Enjoying the feel of his cock filling my mouth and throat as he hurries us back to my place. I love knowing that we are being watched. That at every stop light every car is looking into our car and giving him thumbs up. I love feeling his manhood growing both physically and emotionally.

My place, my rules. This time it’s me that takes control. I open up my secret box of toys and watch the sparkle in Tommy’s eyes as I grab my restraints. I tie him to my bed so that he is unable to touch me, knowing this will drive him crazy. I straddle him so his firmness can feel my wetness. Kissing and exploring his mouth I can feel his hips trying to figure its way to maneuver his cock into me. I am better at this game than he is. I have him pinned down so that he can only react with hips, not lead. My lips move from his mouth to his neck, the scent of him intoxicates me, he smells like a crisp breath of air. I enjoy the spot where his neck meets his collar bone, such a sweet triangle. Then I glide slowly down his chest; kissing, biting, nibbling and teasing all the way down. Stopping again where his hip bones dip, a man in perfect physical shape has such a delicious dip between his waist and his hips. I trace his hips as if they were an extension of his beautiful cock. I can feel him wanting so badly to participate, but I hold him down. His cock dances around, excited at the thought of getting back in my mouth. My mouth misses the way he feels, pushing deep into the back of my throat. I take my time licking and sucking his tip. My right hand strokes his cock as my left massages his balls, delighted by the fact that he continues to grow stiffer and thicker. I allow my mouth and tongue to enjoy every inch of his beauty. As his moans reach my ears, I am further inspired to work more diligently. Moving down further to play with his balls and to test his rim. Excited to hear the pleasure that stirs from down deep in his throat, almost making him come. I pull away because I am not done with him yet, gliding back up to kiss him so that he can calm down a bit.

For a man that is so ready to explode, the more you tease the more he breaks down. I glide back down for a second go at it. Knowing better now which spots set him off, I go for them with vigor. He moans louder and his cock reaches further. I want to test his limits, but I will save that for another time. I know now how far he will play and will leave it to his imagination as to how far I can take him.

Now it’s my dripping pussy that is eager, wanting so badly to feel his cock deep inside of her. I squat above his hips and allow my pussy to drip down onto his cock, dancing just at his tip. His hips kick up in an attempt to delve into me, but I move fast and pull up, hovering on top, but not allowing him any further penetration. He begs for me to let him in, so I only tease longer. Just as he begins to give in and let go of any attempts at taking control, I allow him in hard and fast. He screams with pleasure. I scream with pain. He fills all of me and pushes at my limits. A stallion in need of riding, I channel my inner cow girl and ride him like he is wild and in need of taming. He cries with pleasure and moves me harder and faster. His hands pull at their restraints, wanting to grab hold of my hips and lead, so to punish him, I pull up. He whimpers. He knows to stop struggling and throws his head back to concede. I mount back onto his cock and proceed. Stopping when either of us are about to come, we make this last as long as we both can handle. Taking us both to our limits. I enjoy all of him, deep as he can go and try to take him even deeper. I ride him as fast as my hips can move, only to push faster. Just as I feel him swell with the need to come, I allow us both to come together, screaming in pleasure. I am grateful Jodi is away for winter break, because there is nothing better than not holding back.

“Thank you,” Tommy whispers breathlessly.

“The pleasure is all mine.”

“We should have come here sooner. What other great surprises do you have in that magic box of yours?”

“For me to know, and for you to find out.”

“Does this mean we get to do this again?”

“As I recall, we are capable of many rounds.”

“I meant, can we please make this a regular thing? You and I, maybe even have dinner or a movie too? Not that I am opposed to the way things are moving along. I just want to get to know more of you.”

“One day at a time, Big Boy.”

“One day at a time it is, my beauty.” I pause and think of Benji, I need to find a nice way of asking Tommy to not call me beauty.

I release Tommy from his restraints so that we could cuddle and enjoy the blissful silence. Steadying our breaths so that we are breathing in sync with one another. Tommy allows us to rest a bit, then he slyly takes my restraints and in one swift motion, I am on my back, pinned down and he is working quickly to tie me down. I am a willing body, so I lie back and take pleasure in all that is to come, until I am able to come; again and again and again.

Tommy respects my rules as much as he does my body, so he leaves before the dawn. I grab a quick shower and cuddle into bed. I will say one thing, all these escapades do help me to sleep more soundly. The nights when I have been with Tommy have given me the best sleep of my life.

Tommy manages to give me my quality time at work with Emily and Jojo, knowing how much I miss my girlfriends. I don’t glance at the door anymore, because I know that he is coming. He usually arrives around 8 or 9 pm, bringing us all dinner. He is surely winning brownie points with my co-workers. Tommy is trying to get me to go to the movies, since there is a theater that has a midnight showing. Triple Rock has had to restock its bar of Macallan, not a lot of our regulars consume their own bottle every two days. Tommy allows my girlfriends to drill him with all the questions that we ladies long to ask our men when we first start dating them. Since I am still in full denial that we are dating, they ask and I listen and take notes. They love that his favorite color is pink.

“Why can’t a man love pink?” Tommy defends himself.

“Dude, I was cheering for you until I heard that,” Mikey teases.

“Oh, and what is your favorite color?”

“I only reveal my favorite color after the second date. So you will have to take me out a few times first. And I better get the kind of thank you gifts that this girl gets.”

“Only if you perform the way she does.”

I completely blush over that comment.

“Wow, looks like Val’s cheeks are the shade of my favorite color,” Mikey teases me.

“Wait, your favorite color is red? That’s just a darker shade of pink.” Emily teases Mikey back, defending Tommy a bit. Always a good sign when our girls defend your man. Usually they are knocking them down.

“Well, we can argue this one because Val isn’t quite red, she is still a dark blush.” Tommy pokes fun at me.

I am so glad that they can all enjoy such great laughs at my expense. Although reliving any of our escapades in my head is enough to make me blush on my own.

We are a tight-knit bunch here at Triple Rock, we all know way too much about each other. When you are away from family, you have to make your own family. I have been so lucky to stumble into this bunch; we have all been through so much together. Tommy is the first of our “extensions” to be well received. I watch his interaction with the group with pride. I am a fool not to want to call him mine.

Sadly, Tommy is committed to a yearly ski trip for New Year’s Eve. A part of me is okay with this, as it’s such a funny time of the year, especially for two people who just met and don’t know yet what to do with each other. Bringing in the New Year with my closest friends is almost as good as being down at home at my dad’s bar. This is my last New Year’s Eve here and I selfishly want all of this to myself. Benji is back with Amy; I am impressed to see he survived meeting the parents, and am happy to see him happy. Mikey and Boss will be the two I kiss this midnight. They are the two older brothers I never had. I think I will miss this place more than Berkeley. Now I get why everyone always comes back. With 2018 rounding the corner, I am acutely aware of my life here, and how much I will miss it all.

I call Nate at 9 p.m. my time, which is his midnight. “Happy New Year!” I scream into the phone.

“Happy New Year! I hope I get to see more of you in 2018 than I did in 2017.”

“Me too! Sounds like you are at a party.”

“My aunt threw a New Year’s Eve party at her house on Long Island. All of our family are here, even the ones from Florida, to be with my mom. Jesus Christ, we Cubans can breed. This house is packed, and it’s all family.”

“So, no kissing cousin to kiss on the stroke of midnight?”

“No, amor, only crazy white folks kiss their cousins.” We both laugh.

“Well, I am sending you a kiss.”

“Gracias, mi amor! I better go and join in all the singing and dancing. Call me tomorrow?”

“Absolutely. Not so early, though, I hope to be asleep nursing a hangover.”

“I will surely be doing that. Besos!”

I know I should tell Nate about Tommy, but with all that is going on in his life right now, I really can’t bring myself to. Plus, who knows how long all of this will last. I don’t need to talk about a relationship I am unsure will make it past Valentine’s Day.

Minutes before the stroke of midnight, Tommy calls.

“Happy New Year Sweetheart!” He yells into my ears.

“Happy New Year to you, Mr. Stanford.”

“I hope you aren’t kissing some lucky one-night-stand-to-be in a few seconds.”

“Nope, just Mikey and Boss. You have those boys watching over me pretty closely.”

“Yeah, I slipped them both a few bills before I left.”

“Funny! Okay, counting down.” I hold up the phone so he can hear the crowd as we count down; “5, 4, 3, 2, 1…Happy New Year!” The entire room shouts. Tommy is trying to yell into the phone, I could not make out anything he was trying to say to me. Instead I hang up the phone and text him kiss emojis.

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