“I’ll be right there!” Someone was knocking very hard on Gabi’s door on a Friday night in late November. Gabi swore as she slipped her heels on and ran to answer. “Hold on! I’m coming!”
She pulled the door open and smiled at her two best friends. “Angela! Lizzie!” The girls squealed and enveloped each other in a group hug. “Lizzie I didn’t know you were coming!”
“Did you really think I’d miss your birthday?” Lizzie said, stepping into Gabi’s apartment. Elizabeth Matthews was a tall, muscular girl with braids whose beautiful, dark chocolate skin always seemed to shine. She and Gabi had played volleyball together in college. Gabi quit the team after their freshman year in order to focus on school but Lizzie was on a volleyball scholarship and played all four years. Now she was a volleyball coach and algebra teacher at a high school in Dallas.
Angela groaned as she closed the door behind her. “Gabi do you really want to go to this club? Are you sure you don’t want to watch some Netflix and order a pizza?” She was pulling down the form fitting dress that Lizzie had no doubt forced her to wear. Her eyelids were packed with glitter and she had her long, silky black hair pulled into a sleek high ponytail.
Gabi laughed and handed each of her friends a shot glass. “Nope! We do that every year. This is my twenty-fifth birthday! It’s not every day that you turn a quarter of a century. We are celebrating in true style tonight! Besides, I am not wasting this outfit.”
Lizzie smiled. “You got that right! There’s a party bus with your name on it downstairs, so let’s take these shots and get going!”
They downed the drinks and headed for the door. Angela gave Gabi a quick hug. “You’re lucky I love you. I am going to regret this so much when your nephew is climbing on my head tomorrow morning and I’m nursing a hangover.”
They headed downstairs and climbed onto the party bus where their other friends greeted them happily. Someone immediately handed Gabi another shot and she took it eagerly. She laughed watching Lizzie dance on the pole in the middle of the bus and took a seat next to one of her friends from college.
“Damn Gabi you look good! Happy Birthday!” Jackson said, scooting closer to her and putting his arm around her shoulder.
She felt his eyes rake over her body and instantly felt uncomfortable. Jackson had been trying to sleep with her since their freshman year of college. Not date her. Sleep with her. He advertised this desire to take her to bed to all of their friends. The only reason she tolerated his presence, was because he was Lizzie’s cousin.
“Uh, thanks Jackson,” she said, sliding from underneath his arm. “How have you been?”
Thankfully, he took the hint and leaned away from her a bit. “Good! I’m almost done with law school; Two more semesters and I’ll be an attorney.”
She smiled. “That’s amazing Jackson! Congratulations!”
Angela wandered over with another shot for Gabi. “Come on Gabs! Your brother wants to say hi to you.”
“Nico! I didn’t think both of you would be able to come!” She hugged her older brother tightly.
“We got a babysitter. It was kind of last minute. Happy birthday little sis!” He leaned down to whisper something in her ear. “I just want to give you a head’s up that Mari’s meeting us at the club.”
Gabi sighed. “Why? She’s just going to complain the whole time.”
“I know but she’s our sister and she’s going through a tough time right now--”
Gabi groaned. “I don’t want to talk about this. It’s my birthday! Someone get me another shot!”
Everyone cheered as she downed yet another drink.
Nico frowned at her. “Gabi slow down--”
“Angela! Why did you bring Nico if he’s just going to be a buzzkill?” She tried to pour herself another shot.
“Okay! I think that’s enough for now Gabs,” she said, taking the bottle from her friend. “Besides we’re at the first place.
They all got off of the bus and walked straight to the front of the line. They were led to the VIP section and immediately had bottle service.
Gabi leaned over to Lizzie. “I never understood why they put fireworks on the champagne bottles. That just screams fire hazard.” She took out her phone to take a video of the fireworks on snapchat anyway.
She took another shot and headed to the dance floor with Lizzie in tow. She felt the liquor coursing through her system as she danced provocatively to the pulsing music. She almost lost her cool when the song changed and La Modelo came on. As she was dancing, she felt eyes on her and whipped around, expecting to see Jackson staring at her again. Instead, she locked eyes with none other than Ryan Cole. Her breath caught in her chest as he flashed that lopsided grin of his and sauntered over to her.
He leaned down and whispered in her ear. “Gabriella.” She shivered at his warm breath on her skin. “Happy birthday.”
He stood back up and smirked down at her. “How, how did you know it was my birthday?” she said with a frown.
He pointed to the sash that Angela had put on her. It said “birthday girl.”
He laughed and took her hand. “Dance with me?”
Gabi paused for a brief second. The tiny part of her brain that was still thinking rationally was screaming no. The rest of her brain, and her body too for that matter was screaming hell yes. She nodded and turned into him, grinding to the beat of Wild Thoughts.
She could tell he was drunk too; she smelled the liquor on his breath. More overpowering though, was his scent. The light spray of cologne that she smelled on him every day at work combined with whatever delicious shampoo he used had her mind reeling. She pressed herself closer to him and sighed happily.
It had been seven months since they had started working together and she felt extremely attracted to him. She fought the attraction desperately; He was her boss for heaven’s sake. But tonight was her birthday and she wanted him, damn the consequences. Had it not been for Angela who appeared at the exact moment Gabi decided to kiss him, who knows what would have happened.
“Gabs? Whoa! Who’s this?” Angela asked, with a grin.
Ryan introduced himself to Angela when Gabi didn’t respond. She was too busy trying to make sure Angela didn’t see her blushing.
“Ryan, would you like to join us? We’re about to head to another club.”
Gabi glared at Angela, who ignored her.
Ryan smiled. “Sure! But my brother is with me, is it alright if he comes too?”
“Of course! The more the merrier! Meet us out front in five!” She took Gabi’s hand and led her away while Ryan went to get his brother.
“Oh my gosh, Gabi! He is so hot! Why do you look so mad?”
“Angela! Ryan is my boss!”
Angela stopped walking so abruptly that Gabi ran into her and almost fell. “Damn it, Ang!”
“Sorry Gabs but that is your boss? That’s Ryan Cole? You get to see that Adonis every day?”
“He’s not that good looking,” Gabi murmured under her breath.
“Yeah sure. That’s why you were practically dry humping him on the dance floor.”
“I was not!” Gabi protested.
“Girl whatever! You brought out your inner ratchet just now. Come on! Everyone’s outside already.”
Gabi followed her outside and the brisk wind made her shiver. She felt a jacket being placed on her shoulders and looked up to see Ryan standing there. Next to him was a tall man she assumed was his brother. He was making out with someone who looked an awful lot like...
Lizzie and Ryan’s brother broke apart and Lizzie looked at her best friend with a sheepish expression. “What?”
Gabi shook her head laughing.
“Let me introduce you. Gabi this is Luke and his brother Ryan. They’re from New York,” she said giggling.
Ryan and Gabi looked at each other and burst out laughing.
The smile on Lizzie’s face faltered. “Wh, what’s so funny?”
“Oh nothing,” Ryan said. “Gabriella and I already know each other.”
“Gabriella?” Lizzie asked, trying and failing to suppress her laughter.
Gabi scowled at her. “Shut up Lizzie!”
“I’m sorry! It’s just so funny! Gabriella!”
Gabi crossed her arms and tried to avoid Ryan’s amused gaze. “It’s my name. I don’t see why it’s so funny Elizabeth.”
That made her stop laughing. “Take it back Gabi!”
Luckily, Angela walked up and separated the two of them. “Come on you two. We all know that you’re Gabi and you’re Lizzie,” she said to each of them respectively. “Okay? Let’s get back on the bus!”
She took off toward Nico and Lizzie looped her arm through Luke’s, sticking her tongue out at Gabi as she walked toward the bus.
“So,” Ryan said looking down at Gabi. “Why can’t I call you Gabby?”
“What?” she asked.
“The first day we started working together, I asked you if I could call you Gabby and you said no. Why?”
“First of all, it’s Gabi. And you’re my boss,” she replied simply, as they too headed in the direction of the party bus.
“So if I was more than just your boss, I could call you Gabi?”
She blushed under the heat of his gaze. “I don’t know. Maybe. Not that it will ever happen.”
“What? You don’t think we can be friends?”
She blushed even deeper when she realized that he just wanted to be friends with her. “I thought we were already friends Ryan. We get pollo guisado together at least twice a week.”
“So I can call you Gabi?”
She stopped walking as they had reached the bus. She turned around to face him with her back leaning on the side of the bus. “I suppose so,” she said with a shy smile.
He thought for a second before he leaned down and whispered in her ear. “That’s okay, I think I like Gabriella better. Everyone calls you Gabi it seems. I want to be special.”
He pressed a kiss to her cheek and took her by the hand, guiding her back onto the party bus.
The rest of Gabi’s birthday party went fairly well aside from the argument that she had with Marisol. They were both drunk outside of the second club and were screaming at each other in Spanish. Nico had to break it up when Marisol tried to grab Gabi by her hair.
“Cochina!” Marisol screamed at her sister as Nico tried to drag her away.
“Enough! Marisol callate la boca ahora!” Nico yelled.
She mumbled expletives under her breath but overall remained quiet.
Nico turned to Gabi. “I’m sorry Gabi. I thought Mari would be mature enough not to pick a fight with you on your birthday but I guess I was wrong.” He glared at Marisol who had enough decency to look ashamed. “I’m taking her home.”
Marisol started to protest but the look Nico gave her made her keep her mouth shut.
Gabi watched her brother and sister walk away arguing with each other with Angela running after them and shook her head angrily wiping a stray tear from her cheek.
“So that’s your little sister?”
Gabi whipped around and saw Ryan standing there, peering at her curiously. “You saw that?” she cringed.
“Not if you didn’t want me to,” he replied, cryptically.
“What are you even doing out here?”
He shrugged. “Luke and Lizzie were all over each other so I was alone with your other friends; It was kind of awkward.” He frowned. “I don’t care for that Jackson fellow; He was glaring at me.”
Gabi laughed aloud. “Don’t mind that creep. He’s Lizzie’s cousin and he has a little crush on me.”
“Oh, so he was jealous?” Ryan said, once again draping his jacket over Gabi’s shoulders.
She shivered as she felt his hand brush the skin on her arm. “I guess. Not that there’s anything to be jealous about.”
He raised an eyebrow and smirked at her. “There isn’t?”
“No? Yes?” She looked up at him, realizing that he was much closer to her than she had previously thought. She stumbled backward and luckily he caught her before she could fall, wrapping an arm tightly around her waist to steady her. “Is there?”
“There can be,” he replied, his chocolate brown eyes piercing hers. “If you want it to be.”
Before she could form a coherent response, she felt his lips on hers. She melted into the kiss and let out a moan of pleasure. Ryan took this as a cue to deepen the kiss and bit her bottom lip gently. Gabi wrapped her arms tightly around his neck and pulled him closer to her. They broke apart for air moments later and it was then that Gabi realized the gravity of the situation.
“Oh!” she gasped and took a step back from Ryan. “Mierda! Oh my gosh!”
“Gabriella?” Ryan asked, his brows furrowed in concern. “What’s wrong?”
“I, I...I have to go.” She took off running as best she could in her heels and tight dress back toward the club as Ryan called after her.
She ran inside cursing herself for allowing herself to indulge in her secret feelings for Ryan. The loud music pulsed in her head as she looked for Lizzie. She found her cozied up in a corner with Luke, laughing and talking.
Lizzie looked up at her friend and her smile disappeared. “Gabs? What’s wrong?”
“I want to go home.”
Lizzie nodded and looked over at Luke apologetically.
Luke stood up with her. “I’ll take you both home. I have a driver; He can be here in less than five minutes.”
Gabi hesitated but agreed when she saw the pleading look that Lizzie was giving her.
Thirty minutes later she crawled into bed after taking off her makeup and throwing on her most comfy pajamas. She checked her phone and saw she had five missed calls and fifteen text messages, all from Ryan. She was going to open one of the texts when he called again and she accidentally answered.
She heard him calling her name over the phone and swore internally before placing the phone to her ear. “Ryan.”
He exhaled forcefully. “Jesus Gabriella! Why did you run off like that? I’ve been looking for you everywhere.”
“Luke and Lizzie brought me home.”
He was silent so long she thought that he had hung up. “Ryan?”
“I’m coming over. We need to talk.”
“What?! Ryan no--” she heard the dial tone, indicating that he had ended the call.