“Gabi? Gabi wake up.”
“Go away,” she mumbled into her pillow.
“Gabriella Marie Perez de Leon! If you do not get up this very second I am calling your mother!”
Gabi sat up straight in her bed. “Angela what the hell do you want?” she asked crossly.
“Oh. My. God. You look like actual shit. When is the last time you washed your hair?” She leaned in and sniffed at her best friend. “Or took a shower?”
“Why do you care?” Gabi flipped back the covers and made her way to her bathroom to turn on the shower. She caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror and cringed. She really did look dreadful.
“Because I’m your best friend and I haven’t heard from you since Saturday. And I got a call from your job today,” Angela said as she walked into the bathroom.
“What?” Gabi stared at her friend in shock.
“Yeah from Michael Wilkerson.” Angela hoisted herself onto the bathroom counter and glared at Gabi. “Care to explain that one?”
“Let me rephrase. Since when has Michael been your boss and why is this the first I’m hearing of it?”
Gabi groaned and climbed into the shower. “I didn’t want you to worry!” she said loudly over the noise of the water.
“So having Michael call and say you haven’t shown up to work in a week was your way of making me not worry? That’s extremely logical Gabs,” Angela replied sarcastically.
Gabi didn’t reply and Angela sighed. “Gabi, what the hell is going on? This is so unlike you.”
“Can you make us some tea while I finish showering?” Gabi asked. “Then we’ll talk.”
Angela groaned but left Gabi to shower in peace. Fifteen minutes later, they were seated on her couch with steaming mugs of tea and a movie on in the background.
“So let me get this straight. You left his apartment, barefoot at three in the morning and haven’t contacted him since? And you haven’t gone into work all week in order to avoid him?”
“Are you stupid?!”
Gabi looked up at Angela in shock before bursting into tears. “I am! I might have ruined my last chance at happiness with a guy! And I might lose my job!”
Angela moved closer to Gabi and wrapped her arms around her best friend. “Gabs don’t cry. You can fix this. Ryan is a great guy but even if things don’t work out with him, there will be other guys. As for your job, I guilted Michael into not firing you as long as you show up tomorrow for the trip.”
Gabi groaned. “The trip! What am I going to do? Ryan will be there; I’m sure he hates me now.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure--”
“Ang you didn’t see his face. I’d be surprised if he ever spoke to me again. I’ve been ignoring his calls all week and I’m pretty sure he came by on Monday after work too but I didn’t answer the door.”
Angela stared at her friend with a conflicted expression.
“What is it, Angela?”
“I really shouldn’t be telling you this; Nico made me promise not to tell you.”
“Tell me what?”
“First tell me this. Do you want Ryan back?”
Gabi nodded without hesitation. A week without him made her realize how much she wanted him, damn the consequences.
“Well, Ryan came by our place looking for you yesterday. He looked like he hadn’t slept in days. Nico took him out for a drink and apparently he got shitfaced and whined about you all night.”
“He did?” Gabi asked, sniffling.
Angela nodded. “Nico said he had to really keep his composure to keep from punching Ryan as he described the, um, intimate details of your relationship.”
Gabi flushed and buried her face in her palms. “This is just a huge mess. And it’s all my fault.”
“You’re right. It is. I’m not going to sugarcoat it. But you’ve been through worse and you’ll get through this.”
Angela stood up and offered her hand to Gabi. “Now come on. Let’s get you packed and ready for this trip. And then we’ll figure out how you’re going to make it up to Ryan.”
Gabi wheeled her suitcase behind her as she walked through the terminal early that Sunday morning. She had dried her tears the night before and had a fierce determination in her belly. Or maybe that was hunger. Either way, she was going to get Ryan back.
Ryan was talking to Luke when his eyes landed on Gabi. She could see that the previous week had taken a toll on him as well. His eyes were bloodshot and he looked drained. He ended his conversation with Luke and strode casually over to her with his hands in his pockets.
“Walk with me?” he said softly.
She nodded and left her bag next to Heidi who was sleeping on one of the benches. Gabi’s mother had been kind enough to watch her little girl while they were away on the trip.
Ryan and Gabi walked toward the McDonald’s at the other end of the terminal in tense silence. Ryan looked around before taking Gabi’s hand and pulling her down a small, dark corridor to their right.
She stumbled behind him and gasped when her back hit the cold wall as he spun her into it.
Neither of them spoke and Gabi avoided his gaze by looking at her feet. When she finally risked a glance up at his face, she wished she had kept her eyes down.
He was glaring at her with such intensity she felt like a child in trouble for breaking a vase.
“No. Gabriella. I gave you the chance to call the shots. I basically offered you my heart to you on a platter and you threw it back at me!” He hissed at her.
Gabi shivered. He was speaking quietly but with such intensity that it unnerved her.
“And then you just up and disappear for six days without a word? Do you know how worried I was?” His voice sounded constricted.
“Ryan please let me explain-”
“No! You were too busy trying to keep yourself from getting hurt you didn’t once think about what you were doing affected me.”
“I told you I wasn’t ready! That I couldn’t be what you wanted me to be! But I thought about it—”
“Bullshit Gabriella! I told you before we slept together the first time exactly what I wanted from you and you told me you—”
She launched herself into his arms and shut him up with a fierce kiss that he returned emphatically.
“Would you shut up for a minute and let me speak?!” She said as she stepped back from him and readjusted her shirt.
He stared down at her with lustful but inquisitive eyes and nodded once.
“You’re right. I wasn’t thinking about your feelings. I was selfish and I’ll own that. I felt I had to protect myself. I wasn’t ready to let you in.”
He raised an eyebrow. “And you are now?”
She hesitated. “Well--”
He put his palm up to stop her. “Save it, Gabriella. You come to me when you’re ready but I won’t allow myself to be dangled on a string. I can’t promise that I’ll still be waiting for you but I can’t take the back and forth. To quote that incredibly long movie you forced me to watch last week, ‘I don’t like things held up before me that I cannot have.’”
And with that, he spun on his heel and left her in the corridor to dry her tears.
The flight to New York was long, which was good and bad. It was bad because Gabi was seated next to Michael who snored with his mouth open the entire flight. It was good because it had given her a chance to process what had happened with Ryan that morning.
She and Angela had come up with a solid plan the day before. Unfortunately, none of it had involved Ryan ambushing Gabi in the terminal and her screwing things up with him yet again.
She exhaled deeply as she removed her luggage from the carousel at baggage claim and wheeled it over to where the rest of the group was boarding the shuttle to the hotel.
It was still early when they arrived at the hotel so Gabi and Heidi checked into the room they were sharing and had breakfast delivered to the room before they took a nap.
Gabi woke around 1 in the afternoon and showered, using the hotel’s crappy blow dryer to dry her hair so she wouldn’t freeze in the chilly New York weather. She and Heidi explored the city making sure to hit all the touristy spots they could. They took pictures in Central Park, saw Lady Liberty and even visited the 9/11 memorial. They had dinner at some fancy restaurant and Heidi had somehow managed to get two tickets to see Hamilton.
They were exhausted when they returned to the hotel later that night and Heidi immediately went to bed.
Gabi dressed in the lingerie that she and Angela had packed and set her plan into motion. She threw on her trench coat and heels and left her room as quietly as she could. She took the elevator up to the floor Ryan was staying on. Luke had given them all Ryan’s room number in case of emergencies. Luke, of course, was not staying at the hotel with them and stayed in his Manhattan apartment instead.
Gabi took a deep breath as she stood in front of the door. She fluffed her curls a bit, knowing that Ryan preferred her hair when it was big. She knocked on the door and waited.
A few moments later, the door swung open to reveal a lithe blonde woman in a tight black dress and sky-high heels. “Can I help you?” she said.
“Uhh, I’m sorry. I must have the wrong room; I was looking for Ryan Cole.”
“This is his room. You must be one of his employees.”
Gabi nodded dumbly. “Are you his sister?” she asked hopefully.
The woman laughed. “Hardly. I’m Suzette Van Herick. I’m Ryan’s fiance.”
Gabi took a step backward in shock. She felt like the wind had been knocked out of her. “Fi, fiance? I didn’t know Ryan was engaged.”
Suzette flashed her ring at Gabi with a smile. “Yep! Was there something you needed from him? He’s in the shower but I can tell him you stopped by--”
“No! No,” she said a little more quietly when she saw Suzette’s startled expression. “It was nothing major. I’ll just ask him tomorrow.”
“Are you sure?” Suzette asked sweetly.
“Yes, it’s fine. It was nice to meet you Ms. Van Herick. Have a good evening.” Gabi turned and fled back to her room as fast as she could wiping the tears from her eyes as she changed and crawled into bed. She didn’t know if she was crying from sadness or anger but she did know that it would be the last time she would waste tears over Ryan Cole.