I seriously could not sleep a damn wink.
Ever since we came back, the butterflies would not go away. Despite what I told Luca earlier, I felt jittery, nervous and couldn't stand still. So much so that I demanded the boys to play Dance Central with me. When it wasn't my turn, I was dancing alongside them while avoiding the camera. Plus, I made the bright decision to drink my favorite coffee thinking it would calm me down.
How stupid am I? Apparently, I'm pretty stupid.
Now it was three in the fucking morning and these butterflies decided to take up residence in my stomach. It also didnt help that I was sleeping in the same room with the man that I loved. The man who didn't know that I loved him in a less-than-a-friend-more-like-a-lover-and-god-I-really-want-to-ravage-your-lips kind of way.
I couldn't even bear to see if he was still awake. Because then he'd look at me 'cause he can just tell when I do, then he'd ask what I was thinking about and then I'd get all tongue-tied and then he'd get all worried like the great guy that he was and I'd just feel like shit because I obviously couldn't say right then and there I love you Conti!
He would probably just say I love you too and not notice that I mean it in the other way.
He'd freak out. A lot. Like me.
Oh, my god, I'm going to drive myself crazy. And I really, really, really wanted to look at him. I just wanted to know if he was sleeping. His breathing sounded even but I didn't hear any snoring. Did that mean he was still awake?
I had no idea. God, it was such a bad idea drinking coffee late at night.
What would happen if I told him? Would he never talk to me again? Would he ban me from his parents' house? Would I never talk to his sister again? Would I never see the twins and Jason again? Worst of all, would I lose my best friend?
Nope! Can't tell him, too much at stake.
But what if he loves you back? the little voice in the back of my head asked.
I almost laughed out loud. Wouldn't that be a dream come true. He obviously didn't love me like that. I mean, yeah. He gets protective when other guys look at me creepily but that's normal, right? If I was umcomfortable, he was umcomfortable.
What about those looks you guys always send to each other?
Oh, please, I debated with myself. That's just from years of knowing each other. We just clicked like puzzle pieces. The yin to my yang. The light to my dark. The cherry to my banana fudge sundae. The Chewbacca to my Han Solo. Together forever, man. Duh.
I'm not talking about those looks, stupid. I'm talking about the ones you accidently catch.
Oh. Ok, so I've caught some tender looks from Luca but it wasn't like he was trying to hide them! I always thought of them like "I'm so glad she's my best friend" or "This girl is plain amazing." I never once thought they were "God, I love her."
And what about the way he touches you?
Fact: My thoughts wanted to torture me.
It was true that he touched me a lot, but wasn't that a given in any close relationship? He holds my hand when I'm scared. Hugs me whenever I need it – more like when I want it. Pats my head to annoy me. Plays with my hair when he's bored. Touches my face when I'm crying. Lifts my chin when he wants me to look at him. Even just a few hours ago, he touched my back and tried to massage the pain away. He'd always been gentle, careful… loving.
But that didn't mean… did it?
I rubbed my face tiredly. I really needed to stop thinking. I needed to count sheep and think about sleeping puppies. Yes, that was exactly what I needed.
His deep, rumbling voice stirred the butterflies awake. I didn't even know the constant flutters were calm. Right now, it felt like they wanted to slip out from my throat. Ew, butterfly vomit.
"Hmm?" I replied. The butterflies took away my ability to speak properly.
"What happened earlier?"
He didn't explain which incident. There was no need. I didn't even feel like pretending that I was clueless. Playing games with him was just useless. Fun, but useless.
"Um," I began. I felt the anxiety rise even higher and I almost couldn't breathe. Thankfully, he continued talking so I didn't have to answer.
"I know you said I didn't hurt you but you looked so shocked and scared. Is something going on with you that you're not telling me?"
"No!" I said immediately. Of course, I said it so fast he found it suspicious. There was nothing wrong with me but I was withholding information. Omissions suck.
"That doesn't sound like a lie," he said sarcastically.
"Luca," I finally said. "Just forget about it. Nothing's wrong with me, I promise."
I held my breath waiting for his reply. He didn't say anything. In fact, he hadn't made a sound. I felt the invisible laser on my cheek and quickly turned my head to the right. I knew he was staring at me. He sat up and crossed his legs, and patted a spot on his bed.
I sighed and walked across the room to his side and sat opposite from him.
"Hey there, stranger," I joked.
"Something's up and you don't want to tell me."
I took in a sharp breath. He didn't say it in a mean way but it was direct and firm. I veered my eyes away from his to look at a dart behind him. I nodded.
"Are you mad at me? Did I do something wrong?"
"What? No, Luca! Not at all."
"Then why are you hiding from me?" he asked intensely. He gripped my face lightly so I could look at his eyes again. Damn, he caught me.
"Look. I'm not lying when I say that nothing is wrong with me. I have no illness or disease, no debts, or in any trouble whatsoever. If I had a problem that I couldn't deal with, believe me, you would be the first to know."
"Then what's wrong?"
I swallowed nervously. I couldn't tell him now. It didn't seem right. "There are just some things I have to deal with alone. Can you understand that, Luca?"
I silently pleaded with him to let this go in peace. He just continued to stare at me until he sighed deeply and nodded, conceding to my demand.
I grabbed his hands from my face. "You're the best, Conti," I told him and kissed his knuckles as thanks.
Well, that's what I told myself. I just really wanted to kiss some part of him that wasn't his lips. I didn't think I would be able to explain that.
"Go to sleep, O'Hara," he said and ruffled my hair for good measure. He knew it annoyed me but I always allowed him anyway.
Sleeping meant thinking and I didn't feel like debating with myself even more, so I told him, "Actually, I'm not sleepy."
"I knew you shouldn't have drunk that coffee," he shook his head with a good laugh.
I shrugged my shoulders. "I thought it would have calmed me down."
He paused for a moment to give me that look that I knew so well. "Are you serious?"
Yes, I really am that stupid, people. Take note.
I laughed awkwardly while he just shook his head again. "So what do you want to do then?"
"Our late-night talks should suffice," I smiled at him.
"And what do you want to talk about?"
I knew if the question were directed at him, he'd ask what was on my mind. So I decided to take the same approach.
"What's on your mind, Conti?"
Instead of smirking like usual, he actually looked hesitant. He wasn't expecting my question, which honestly he should have, and looked like a fish out of water. I didn't think I had ever heard him stutter.
Did I just make Luca Vinciente Conti speechless?
"Whoa, I didn't think that was such a loaded question."
He just growled and narrowed his eyes at me and I knew that he wanted me to shut up. It just made me giggle.
"Oh, my god," I managed to say between my giggles. "This I've gotta know! Is it about the family? Grad school? Work? A friend?" He quietly sighed, so I was getting closer. "The twins? Jason?" He didn't budge. "A girl?" I meant it as a joke but he took it seriously. His eyes narrowed even more.
Oh, shit. It's a girl.
Let's get something straight. Luca's never had any problem telling me about the girls he's liked. He was no pimp like we teased Jason about but he was no stranger to a woman's charm. I'd seen him date and he'd seen me date. No big deal.
But this kind of was. I was the the first to know always. Just the mention of this girl made him speechless.
He was thinking about her. And from his reaction, it was a lot.
That punch in the heart hurt more than the brick in my face.
"Oh," I said quietly. "How come you never mentioned her before?"
"There are some things you can keep to yourself; I can keep some things to myself, too." Dammit, he was throwing my silence right back at my face!
I couldn't help but breathe roughly at his retaliation. "Well, you obviously like her a lot to keep her a secret from your best friend."
He crossed his arms and quickly changed course from my eyes to the wooden floors. He probably wanted to say something similar about me but he kept his mouth closed.
"Whoever she is," I continued angrily, "I hope she knows how great you are and I can't wait to meet her." With that said, I got off the bed to get into mine. I loudly covered myself with the bed sheets and nestled into the pillow with enormous effort. When I closed my eyes tightly to force myself to sleep, I heard him groan.
"She's the great one," Luca revealed to me. "You two would get along famously." I clenched my jaw in response while he chuckled cutely. "I didn't mean to not tell you. I didn't mean to get you mad. I just…" he trailed off. At least he was sort of apologizing, which was good enough for me.
"You just wanted to keep her to yourself." I didn't dare turn around for fear that he would see the heartbreak in my eyes.
"I guess you could say that."
"Have you told her how you feel?"
"You must've liked her for a long time." Suddenly, I felt that invisible laser on my back. "It's obvious, numb nuts." The laser felt hotter, as if he was glaring at me. I chuckled. "If you think we would get along, you must know her very well. It took you a while to get through me, dumb ass."
"I resent being called numb nuts and a dumb ass," he replied gruffly.
"How come you haven't said anything?"
He breathed deeply. "It's complicated."
"It's always complicated with a friend, isn't it?" I asked curiously, as if I didn't know the feeling myself.
The laser felt even hotter but I knew that he wasn't glaring at me. "Yeah," he told me softly.
I told you he loves you back, my little voice said delightedly.
"It's not me!" I wanted to shout back.
Mhm. Just how many friends does he have that are girls?
Uh, well... they come and go! It could be that I haven't met them yet! I don't know!
Doesn't Luca introduce you to new friends rather quickly? it pointed out.
Well… yes. He usually does. But this girl could be different.
You said so yourself that he's liked her for a long time.
Even my own voice was throwing back the things I had said. I really was torturing myself.
Ok, so what then?
What girl has he known the longest?
Besides me… I mentally let out a surprised breath, no one. Huh.
Like I said, he loves you, babe.
No way. Oh, god. Oh, my god. Oh. My. God. Holy shit!
The close contact. The hand holding. The mind reading. The jealousy, the anger, the joy we felt about each other; it was because... it was because…
It was because Luca loved me. And I loved him.
I was holding my breath to prevent myself from squealing like a pig. When I couldn't hold it in any longer, I released it excitedly. I had to repeat the whole process at least 20 times to calm myself down.
"What are you doing, Kenna?" Luca asked abruptly.
I flipped through my brain for an excuse. "Preventing hiccups."
I never said it would be a good excuse.
I turned around and smiled widely at Luca. He smiled back, albeit a little confused about my sudden change in behavior, but smiled nonetheless. "I can't wait to meet her," I told him.
His smile faltered just barely before he said, "Yeah, me, too."
Don't feel bad about not telling me, I told him telepathically. Even though our Jedi mind-tricks were exceptional, it seemed that certain messages never went through.
That's fine. It was going to change soon enough.
"Good night, Luca."
Two weeks passed since that eventful night.
During those two weeks, Luca's family had been planning their annual Christmas party. Ever since our first Christmas together some years ago, we had made an arrangement that Christmas Eve was spent at Luca's house and Christmas Day at my house. The annual Christmas party was always on the eve. And of course, he enlisted my help as he had done so every year.
We were in charge of decorations this year. The first year I helped, we were placed in kitchen duty.
We no longer had to worry about that burden being placed on our shoulders since The Night of the Walking Dead Turkey. Let's just say that Luca has a way with strings and the guests have never looked at turkey the same way.
Anyways, it was our job to make the house look like Santa's toy shop. Since Luca's parents were loaded, we – meaning I, shopped to our heart's content for lights, tinsel, orbs, and toy props for the transformation while Luca pushed the cart in the right direction.
"Are we almost done?" Luca whined for the millionth time.
I groaned in response. "Luca, if you ask me that one more time, I will tie you up with that tinsel to a tree."
"Promise?" he immediately perked up. The prospect of resting his feet, no matter how, really cheered him up.
I laughed at his reaction. "Just some more props and we're almost out of here."
I rolled my eyes, but I was actually pretty glad to be done with shopping myself. We were perusing the aisle of props when we found ourselves right in front of the well-known, embarrassment-inducing, cheek-flushing herb.
Ah, hello there, mistletoe.
"How many did your sister buy last year?"
"Like, 20 of them."
I widened my eyes in response. "What? How did I not notice last year?"
"They were hidden in the most random places. I remember one being hidden in the attic." I raised my eyebrows haughtily and he flushed. He may be tan but he could never hide that blush. "I didn't kiss anyone! I only know because I saw my parents kiss." He visibly shuddered which made me laugh. "Just gross, man."
"I think it's great that your parents still love each other after all this time."
"You try watching your parents kiss. I bet it won't look so beautiful then."
I stuck my tongue out at him before I realized something. "So who did you kiss?"
"How do you figure that?" he asked nervously.
"You don't blush easily," I teased him.
Even though I guessed correctly, this still surprised me. I was with Luca for set-up/clean-up duty last year and he never mentioned anything about a Christmas kiss.
It made me very jealous. Until he said, "One of Lucia's friends that she brought wanted to talk to me about my Comp Sci major. Wanted some insight from an upperclassmen, he said. So we were just walking around the garden and then he noticed a mistletoe hanging from a tree branch. Next thing I know..." he visibly reddened again and I had to keep myself from laughing out loud.
"So that's why you never mentioned anything," I said with a laugh begging to spill out.
"Do we really have to get a mistletoe?" he asked roughly. No doubt wanting avoid another incident like that from ever happening again.
"We'll only buy one." I smiled at him. "You get to pick where it goes so you know where it is at all times. Deal?"
He groaned. "Fine, but you cannot let me out of your sight!" he pointed a threatening finger to me.
I swatted it away as if it were a pestering fly. "I'm not such a horrible friend! There is a reason why I'm the best!"
"Yeah, yeah." He smiled endearingly at me and it made the butterflies flutter crazily.
Note to self: buy an extra mistletoe.
The next day, I did just that.
Saturday was here so the party was upon us. Luca and I spent two days decorating the entire house. Everything was drenched in red, green, white, gold, and blue tinsel. Glitter and sparkles scattered the floor. Porcelain angels were at every corner and lights made the home so much brighter. Luca and I, along with the rest of the Conti family, made paper snowflakes with shiny origami paper. We hung them everywhere and it looked like flakes frozen in place. Santa statues and green elves were placed near the door to greet the guests and Christmas music filled the air. The house was a Winter Wonderland.
Next on our list was the tree. It was a good ten feet tall and I had the honor of placing the star at the top. Even though we had a step ladder, Luca insisted on putting me on his shoulders to lift me up.
"Why do you want me on your shoulders like a little kid?" I asked.
"'Cause you know you want to."
I shot him a "You're so stupid" look but secretly agreed with him. It was a lot of fun being carried like that.
Luca decided to place the mistletoe on the mantle just above the fireplace.
"So if it falls, the cursed thing can be burned," he said. "You're my bodyguard, just in case that guy shows up again."
I laughed at his paranoia. "You're overreacting."
"Too late for that," he smirked at me. "You're my official date."
"You know, it would be nice if you asked," I hinted.
"Mackenna O'Hara, will you please give me the honor of being your date?" Luca asked flatly but his eyes were smiling.
"Jeez, you make it sound like you're being forced to go to a funeral."
He glared at me playfully but couldn't hold back his smile. "So will you?"
I feigned hesitation before he shot me another look. "Of course I will be your date/bodyguard."
With a satisfied grin, he clapped his hands and said, "Now that we have that settled, what's next on our list?"
I mentally ran through the checklist. "We finished our party duties so wrapping the presents are all that's left."
"Are they in your car still?"
"Yeah, plus the wrapping paper, scissors, and tape."
"You have the clear tape, right? Mom and Lucia have been bugging me to make sure I got the 'right' tape."
"I have the "'right' tape. Goodness, the women in your family are nit-picky," I commented.
We were nearing the car as I opened opened the trunk. "It's just women in general." I grabbed the largest tube and smacked him in the head with it.
"Do not insult a woman when she has scissors at her disposal," I counseled sagely.
"You started it," he mumbled cutely.
I couldn't say anything since he made a point, but I totally wasn't going to tell him that.
We walked to his room on the second floor of his parents' grandiose mini-mansion. Most of the floor in the house was made up of tile and marble. Rooms like the living room and bedrooms had the finest carpet installed.
After taking off my shoes, I put all of the stuff I was carrying on his bed. I basically had to squat and jump to get on it.
"This bed is seriously way too high," I complained.
"You're just short."
"No, you're too tall."
Luca was 6 feet, 2 inches tall and I was 5 feet. No wonder he offered to lift me on his shoulders.
We were looking at all the presents on his bed and he noticed something was missing. "My gift isn't in here?"
I heard the disappointment he tried to hide. He really wanted to know what I got him. "Nope," I confirmed. "I made Dylan come get it last week. It's been in my room at home, wrapped and ready to go."
He widened his eyes. "Your brother wrapped?"
"Good God, no!" I tried to imagine my 16-year-old brother wrap presents and all it looked like was odd-shape things covered in duct tape.
"I can't wait to see what puzzle I get this year," Luca told me excitedly.
I rolled my eyes. "I love how easy it is to please you." He poked me in response. "Why didn't you bring your secret love? You could've asked her to be your bodyguard." I winked at him.
He immediately clammed up. "I–I–I, well I mean she... uh... didn't, um... we –"
My loud laughing cut him off. I fell on my side and cackled into the pillow. "You are not easily flustered, though! Priceless."
"You're mean," he replied like a child.
"Oh, you still love me." I smiled lazily at him, fully aware of the duality of my words.
"I wonder why I do sometimes," he tried to say as a joke, but I couldn't help but think if he truly did wonder.
"I don't think there's a rhyme or reason." I flicked his nose. "After all, we were meant to be, weren't we?"
He let out a surprised laugh. "I'll give you that, my girl."
We were finishing up our wrapping when Lucia knocked on the door. "You guys aren't ready yet?" She regarded our appearance, surprised. "Party starts in five minutes." To me she said, "I would've thought you already pushed him into the bathroom by now."
I widened my eyes and glanced toward the clock. 7:55 PM. Crap.
So I did exactly what Lucia predicted. "Get ready! Lucia, grab the presents and place them under the tree! Call my brother and tell him to bring Luca's present now!"
The pushee just smiled at my attempt to rush before the party started but complied with my demand. "Ok! Ok! I'm going! Jeez!"
As soon as I heard his bathroom door close, I ran to Lucia's room to get ready myself. I took the quickest shower of my life and Lucia helped with the preparation.
"Did you call Dylan?"
"Yes, he's on his way right now. Relax."
"Sorry, I can't help it," I admitted.
"You're nervous about something?" I nodded. She paused for a moment while curling my hair. She stared at me blankly before she smiled suddenly. "I think I know what this is about." I swallowed tightly. "Are you finally going to tell Luca?"
I giggled nervously. "Tell him what?"
Lucia shot me her no-nonsense look. I immediately pursed my lips. "All I have to say is it's about damn time!"
My jaw opened slightly in surprise. "How did–"
"Kenna, you and Luca have been friends for years. We've all seen how you guys are together. How could it not happen?"
I remained quiet as she continued to curl my hair. I locked eyes with her through the mirror. "Do you think he feels the same way?" I convinced myself for weeks that he did but now that the time had come to put my plan into action, I was having doubts.
Lucia just slapped my head in reply. "Of course he does, stupid!" I muttered an ouch while I rubbed my scalp. "All he ever does when he comes back home is talk about you. 'Kenna found a new job. Kenna moved closer to us. Kenna tried to make mom's lasagna but almost burned the kitchen down.' Blah blah blah. You get the drift."
He told them about the lasagna incident?! He said he'd keep it a secret!
She continued on. "Just be your beautiful self out there and tell him the truth. It'll be the best decision you'll ever make. Now close your eyes so I can make you up." I felt the brush on my eyelids as she spread the eyeshadow over them.
As soon as she finished, I opened my eyes. She smiled proudly at her work and I said, "Thanks, Lucia."
She handed me the dress and shoes I planned to wear for the night. She pointed to the red lipstick on her vanity and told me, "Make sure to put that on. You're gonna knock him out." She winked cutely at me and left me to my devices.
I carefully stepped into my red lace dress. After my last shopping adventure with Luca, I found this little number and knew it was the perfect dress for me. The top was sewn with intricate and detailed designs that spiraled beautifully. The bottom was solid red and felt like satin and smooth against my skin. The back of the dress was a little longer than front, stopping at the back my knees. The front ended halfway to my thighs. It was innocent and sexy at the same time. I slipped on my black heeled ankle boots and added the last finishing touch Luca suggested.
I quietly walked to Luca's room and knocked on his door lightly. After I had made sure no one was there, I let myself in. From Lucia's room I brought my overnight bag that was meant to store my clothes from earlier. I dug around the bag until I found what I was looking for.
I took a pin from the computer desk and dragged Luca's computer chair near the door frame. I made the ribbon was long enough to hang noticeably low from the frame. Pleased with it, I jabbed the pin through the ribbon and made sure it stuck on the frame. I closed and opened the door a few times to make sure it didn't fall off. Smiling, I put the chair back where it belonged and left the room.
All that was left now was to enjoy the party and hope everything would work out.