Never too Late

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Chapter 3

Dawn’s point of view:

December 2017: The Present

“I can’t believe neither of us is going home for Christmas,” Kira said.

“I know, but we’re going to make so much money working the Holiday Christmas parties.”

“Money, money, money,” she sang dramatically. I just shook my head at her; she was always so ridiculous. “And maybe we can finally find you a man. I guarantee there’s a sexy Santa out there somewhere for you.”

“I don’t want to date,” I said.

“It’s been over a year and a half since you guys broke up.”

Tears filled my eyes at just the mention of the breakup. How pathetic was I? Eighteen months later, and I still wasn’t over him. I should be. After what he did, getting over him should have been the easiest thing in the world to do. The last year of college, I figured it was just because his memory was everywhere, in our apartment, every restaurant and coffee place within ten miles of campus, all the lecture halls. He used to love sneaking into my lectures to distract me with those wicked fingers.

“I know how long it’s been,” I whispered, my voice bitter with the emotion I felt. “If I could magically get over him, I would.”

“You haven’t even tried. We’ve lived in this big old city for six months now and you haven’t gone on a single date. I can’t even get you to download tinder. Hell, you could sleep with anyone, one of the bouncers from work, one of the customers at the restaurant, or a client from the club. They would give you their best effort,” she said suggestively.

“I know I can. I don’t want to.”

Miles was the only person to touch my body other than me. I could barely touch it, now that he was gone; it had always been his, even before I knew it.

Kira huffed, but didn’t push the conversation any further.

“I still need to go Christmas shopping,” I told her. “I need to get something for my parents and Jesse.”

Jesse and I rarely spoke. He hadn’t been okay with Miles and me dating, scared that if things blew up, he’d lose his best friend. Miles and I had both assured him that things wouldn’t blow up. We were in it for the long haul.

I could still hear the sweet, whispered words Miles always spoke. “I love you. You’re my shooting star, my wish come true.” It was so damn cheesy, but I loved it. “Someday, I’m gonna buy you a big diamond ring and a gigantic house and we’re gonna have a dozen babies and live happily after. We’ll spend a few years in the city after you graduate, making money and living it up before we settle down in the country, a nice big farmhouse with lots of land, no neighbours around for miles and miles to hear the way you scream for me. And those sexy screams will lead to the half a dozen babies. And we’ll raise them in a house full of love, and then when they’re all out of the house, will sit on our rocking chairs and watch the sunset over the fields, holding hands. Even old and grey, star, you’ll still be the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.”

He had a way with words.

And I’d believed every single one he’d ever spoken right up until it had blown up in my face… until he did what he’d done

And it had blown up, just like Jesse predicted. He lost Miles. As far as I knew, they didn’t speak anymore, but Jesse and I barely did either. I texted him on Thanksgiving, Christmas and his birthday, but no other time. He used to be my best friend.

I’d lost both of them that day.

And the worst part was that if I could redo it, even knowing how it would end, I’d choose Miles all over again. The three years that we’d been together were worth all this pain, so much so that I’d do it all again.

“I need to do some shopping too,” Kira said, finally answering me and looking away from her phone. She was probably on Tinder.

“Were you on Tinder?”

“There’s a fresh group of guys all coming in to spend the holidays with their families. Mama needs some fresh meat.”

I laughed at her, wishing I could be more like her.

“Come on, let’s get dressed.”

We dressed hurriedly, bunching ourselves up in thick sweaters and coats as we prepared to face the harsh fall air. Winter technically didn’t start until the twenty-first, two weeks away, but apparently mother nature hadn’t gotten the memo.

We walked to the subway station and down into the underground. It was still cold, but we were at least shielded from the wind as we walked towards the right platform.

“What are you going to get your parents?” She asked me.

“I’ve got no idea. I’m hoping I’ll just know it when I see it.”

“Wishful thinking.” I just shrugged. This was the first year that I didn’t have to worry too much about how much money I spent on them. We’d been stripping for two and a half months and we’d never made more money. We were working our asses off six days a week. Three days were spent at the restaurant, waiting on the same men who somehow never recognised us from the club, and I spent the other three days dancing in the club. On a slow night, we each brought over five thousand dollars home, all to dance around naked. I wasn’t shy about my body anymore. My self-confidence had bloomed, and I’d never felt sexier in my skin.

We took the twenty-minute ride, switching trains one time, before finally reappearing on the surface of the city. “I need something warm to drink,” I told her.

“There’s a vendor on the corner.”

Walking closely, huddled together, we ordered hot chocolates before venturing back toward the expensive shops. Mostly, we window shopped, looking through the glass to see if we found something we wanted to buy for someone. “This might work,” I said when we stood in front of one of the fancy coffee companies.

“Coffee?”

“Not just coffee. One of those high end coffee makers, that makes cappuccino and lattes, tea and hot chocolate.”

“That’s not a bad idea.”

We downed the rest of our drinks and tossed the cups into the recycling before venturing inside.

The sales associate was helpful as she walked me through a few of their top line models. They ranged in price from seven-hundred-and-fifty dollars to one thousand. I ended up choosing the one in the middle price range, the more expensive one was too frilly, and they’d never understand how to use it.

“Do you do shipping?” I asked her as I was checking out.

“Yes. A gift?”

“Yeah.”

“Just fill this out for me.”

I filled out the delivery form, putting in my parent’s address, the address that started it all with Miles and me. I had her add a few assorted bags of coffee and espresso, and some of the flavored syrups and a matching cup set.

“Cash or card?” She asked after she’d boxed everything up and I’d watched her put the label on it to ship to my parents.

“Card, please.” I swiped my card and signed the receipt before thanking her again and walking back out into the cold.

“One down,” Kira said.

When we turned, I stopped in my tracks. It happened all the time. It was never him, but for a moment, I always thought it was. Walking in front of us was a mess of dark brown hair, slicked back but still messy, broad shoulders in a black coat. The man had a cell phone to his ear and his hands looked just like Miles’s- rough, calloused, and big.

It wasn’t him.

It never was.

But I always wanted it to be.

Stupidly, I thought that if he just randomly bumped into me, saw how good I was doing, that I hadn’t let myself self destruct when he broke me, he might change his mind. But then I remembered I had more self-worth than that and no matter how much I missed him, I could never let myself be with him again.

“You good?” Kira asked.

“Yup. Let’s keep shopping.”

Kira and I weaved in and out of the shops, but I couldn’t find anything for Jesse. “Why are men so hard to shop for?”

“It’s only men you’re related to that are hard to shop for. The ones you’re not related to are easy. Lingerie, blow jobs, anal sex.”

“Oh my god,” I cackled at her. She’d said it so casually and the old lady walking by had definitely heard. She was glaring at me as I laughed, but I couldn’t stop.

“I’m so serious.”

“Sure. Come on, let’s try this one.”

I pulled her into a department store. There had to be something in the gigantic space that could be gifted to Jesse.

Kira and I drifted through the store together and then separately. Eventually, I settled on a Chanel gift set for Jesse, cologne, deodorant and aftershave. I got one for myself too, a present to me for all I’d been through. I was walking through the home section when I came across a personal fireplace. It was adorable, and surprisingly warm. It was cheap, only fifty bucks, so I got that for him too.

“What did you end up with?” Kira asked when she found me again. She had a basket full of miscellaneous things, too.

“A cologne gift set and this little mini fireplace.”

“I saw the fireplace too! I got it for the apartment.”

With the amount of money we made now, we could easily afford to live by ourselves, and even upgrade our tiny apartment, but we loved it, believed it had character. Maybe when the lease ended, we’d find some place a little higher end, bigger, with a better kitchen, but for right now we were good. “It is always freezing in the apartment.”

She nodded and grinned.

“Do you need anything else?”

“Just something for you.”

“Aw, babes. You’re all the Christmas present I need.” I laughed at her before walking away again. What did you get the friend who literally saved your life when you couldn’t save yourself?

Booze.

That was the answer.

Making sure she wasn’t following me, trying to catch a glimpse of what I was going to buy for her, I went to the liquor section of the store. Kira was a tequila girl, through hand through. I browsed through all the shelves, searching mostly at the top, knowing little about tequila. I hated it, including margaritas and tequila shots. Miles had taught me how to drink whiskey. I ended up just picking the most expensive bottle I could find- Tears of Llorona No. 3 Extra Añejo Tequila and grabbed a decanter with a little agave crystal in it, and six sipping glasses that had crystal agave too.

She’d love it. Once I had it all loaded in my basket, I went to the whiskey, unable to stop myself. It had taken me six months before I could drink the stuff again, and even now, with every sip it reminded me of him, the late nights in one of our apartments where he passionately told me about where the bottle we were trying was from, what type of cask it’d been ripened in, and if it was peated or not. I hated the peated stuff.

I didn’t need anything, but I still looked, and if Kira asked, I’d deny it. But I was looking for him. Was there something I knew he’d want to try together? Did he need a new decanter and glass set? Had he finally gotten one of those artisanal ice makers he’d dreamed of having, one that gave one giant cube for a glass, one that was crystal clear and melted slow, keeping your drink cold, but not watering it down?

Reluctantly, I moved away, not giving in to the temptation to buy one.

But that didn’t stop me from thinking of him as I moved towards the registers. Everywhere I looked was a present for him, lingerie- so obvious, but he loved it. Watches? Also, for him. On our first anniversary I’d boughten him one; it was a much cheaper one than what I could afford to get him now. It was wooden, and had an engraving on the back of the face- my whole heart for my whole life, your shooting star.

I hated that even now, after more than a year apart, it still rang true.

Miles had my heart, and he always would.

I was almost teary-eyed when I finally made it to the register. How could he still have so much power over me after so much time?

Maybe Kira was right. Maybe I needed to start dating, or at least having sex.

“Are these gifts?” The cashier asked as he began scanning the items.

“Yes. Can I get them gift wrapped?”

“Absolutely. There’s a surcharge.”

“That’s fine.”

He nodded and silently finished scanning my purchases before wrapping them. I had a knack for always choosing the least chatty cashier. I didn’t like small talk. Kira could small talk with anyone about anything and make friends in an instant. I had friends, Kira and Molly, and a few others that I spoke to occasionally from high school and college, but I didn’t want to make friends with every random person I met. Kira was definitely all sunshine and rainbows while I was whatever the opposite of that was. Miles had been the same was as Kira, happy to talk to anyone about anything.

“Cash or credit?” He asked when he finished.

“Credit please.”

“Would you be interested in saving ten percent by opening a store credit card?”

“No, thank you.”

Instead of trying to sell me on the point, he accepted my answer and pointed to where I should swipe my card. I had one of those chip readers in it, but it never seemed to work. As I was taking my bags from him, my phone beeped. Making sure I wasn’t in anyone’s way, I set my bags down and grabbed my phone.

Kira: I’m at the entrance.

Me: On my way.

“What did you get?” She asked.

“Something for under our tree.” I hadn’t even protested when the cashier had wrapped the gift set I’d gotten for myself. It would give me something to open Christmas morning.

“I told you not to get me anything.”

“And I ignored you.” She sighed. “Did you get everything you needed?” I asked her.

“Yeah. I’m all done.”

“Can we take a cab home? I don’t want to cart all this stuff on the subway.”

“No problem. I’ll order us an Uber.”

We stayed huddled next to the doors, waiting until the app told her that our ride was approaching before finally venturing back out into the cold and into the cab.

~~~~~

“Merry Christmas!” Kira shouted as she barged into my room on Christmas morning. It had been two weeks since we’d finished our shopping. My parents had thanked me for the gifts, but I hadn’t heard anything from Jesse. I knew he’d gotten the packages because I’d gotten a notification from the delivery service, but maybe he was waiting until today to open them.

“Come on, let’s go open presents.”

She dragged me from the bed.

“Coffee,” I whined. “What time is it, anyway?”

“Seven.”

“We didn’t get home until two in the morning and you’re already wide awake?”

“It’s Christmas!” She shouted. She was like a little toddler. “And I made coffee. Want some whiskey in it?”

“Yes,” I nodded. I watched her make two cups of coffee, whiskey in mine and Bailey’s in hers.

“All right, you first,” I said when we were finally sitting on the living room floor. Reaching under the tree, I grabbed her wrapped present and handed it to her. She shook it gently, making me grimace; those glasses were definitely breakable. While she opened it, I took a video, recording her reaction. She squealed, like I knew she would, and launched herself into my arms, hugging me tight. “One more,” I squeaked out. She was squeezing me so tight I could barely breathe.

I handed her the other one. “It’s obviously tequila.” I didn’t confirm or deny. “Oh wow. I’ve never heard of this one.” She grabbed her phone and typed in the name. “Oh, my gosh. It sounds so good. Even you might like this one.”

I scrunched my nose up but would probably try just a sip if she asked.

“Okay, your turn.” Kira handed me a box that was neatly wrapped with a bow. I didn’t shake it to see its contents like she had.

“Oh wow,” I said when I opened it. There was a cold brew coffee maker and assorted coffees in it. It looked high end.

“Since you want cold brew, even in the dead of winter. But there’s more.”

She handed me another box; this one was smaller. “Oh, my gosh. This is too much,” I said when I was met with Tiffany blue.

“Just open it.” Inside there was a delicate necklace with a shooting star chain. “You’re Star now, a star,” she said. “He doesn’t own all the stars in the sky, and I hope the necklace reminds you that you were always your own shooting star.”

Tears welled in my eyes, and I pulled her into a tight hug. When I pulled away, I giggled and clasped the necklace around my neck.

We opened the remaining presents from our parents. Mine had gifted me a small succulent, but I wouldn’t have any luck keeping even that alive. Kira’s had gotten her a travel case for her passport that doubled as a wallet. It was definitely a passive aggressive present since she hadn’t gone home for Christmas.

“There’s one more,” she said, reaching around to the very back of the tree. “It’s got your name on it.”

I hadn’t been expecting anything from Jesse.

The box was large and rectangle, fairly heavy. My eyes widened when I opened it.

“Holy shit,” I muttered.

“What is it?”

Turning it so that she could see, I showed her the book titled, stars of the galaxy.

“Is that from?” She cut herself off.

“It can’t be. He doesn’t even know where we live. It’s probably from Jesse, just being an asshole.”

“But last year, you got the.”

“The whiskey set. Yeah I remember,” I said cutting her off.

That gift had also been anonymous.

It couldn’t be Miles.

Could it?

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