My ass is about halfway off my chair, my leg stretched out in a valiant attempt to wrangle the stiletto heel that had slipped off, when my phone vibrates against the glass pane atop my desk. Not bothering to check the caller ID, I answer and bring the phone to my ear, my voice strangled as I make one last desperate plea for my footwear. “Hello?”
“You know, you really shouldn’t answer calls from unknown numbers.” I can hear the smile in Bodhi’s face. I forgo imagining it on his face to keep the daydreams at a minimum.
Giving up on my shoe, I sit up straight in the rolling chair and blame the quickness of my movements on the breathiness of my voice. “I can’t live my life with so many rules.”
“Fair enough,” he laughs. “Sorry for the surprise call. Brenton gave me your number.”
I wish I could say that was surprising. “Did he now?”
“I told him that I need to apologize to you.”
My eyebrows lifted in surprise, despite knowing he couldn’t see me, not remembering what offense he possibly could have caused me the last time we interacted. “What for?”
There’s a pause as though he’s debating whether or not to continue and with each passing second, my heartbeat quickens. Finally, he says softly, “For trying to kiss you the other day.”
My breath catches in my throat. Of course I remember that moment. I just hadn’t thought of it as an event warranting an apology seeing as…well, I’d wanted it. I’d wanted it so badly.
But I suppose part of being an adult is not allowing what I want to eclipse my responsibilities. And as of this particular moment, my responsibility is to Brenton and being the friend that he needs me to be. I clear my throat softly and then reply, “I don’t recall that happening.”
There’s another moment of silence and I squeeze my eyes shut and hope he doesn’t fight me, letting out a sigh of relief when he says, “I guess I’m off the hook, then.”
Despite knowing I made the right decision, there’s an ache in my chest. “I guess so.”
“Well, good,” he replies, clearing his throat and changing his tone from melancholy to hopeful. “Cause I actually need a favor.”
“That didn’t take long,” I joke.
He laughs. “I need you to help me decorate my apartment.”
“I’m not an interior designer,” I remind him.
“I know, but you have great taste.”
A grin stretches my lips involuntarily. “That’s true.”
He laughs softly. “So will you help?”
There’s a part of me that knows that it’s a bad idea. I had just finished pointedly ignoring the fact that we were milliseconds away from having an irreversible romantic moment the other night. I shouldn’t be tempting fate by putting myself in another situation which could lead to the same result.
But there’s another part of me, namely the swirling in my gut, telling me I’ll regret not allowing myself the opportunity to get to know him. And if there’s anything I’ve learned from my twenty-six years on this planet, its that regret is one of the more awful emotions to feel.
So I lean into the pounding of my heart and say, “Okay.”
“Awesome,” his tone brightens. “Can you come over after work? I’ll text you the address.”
“Alright,” I agree, feeling the excited butterflies begin to form in my stomach. “See you then.”
I spend the next few hours at work checking the clock every ten minutes and trying to decide when it would be a reasonable time to leave. By the time six rolls around, I’m almost jittery and lock up the gallery with an efficiency I’ve never exhibited before. I text Bodhi for his address and his coffee order forty-five minutes later, I’m knocking on the door of his third floor walk up in the design district, lattes in hand.
“Hey,” I smile brightly when he pulls the door open. He looks gorgeous as usual, in black mesh athletic shorts and a dark blue t-shirt, his feet bare. It looks like there’s a little bit of white paint in his hair. I’m utterly smitten.
“Come on in,” he grins, stepping aside. He gestures for me to enter and nods his thanks when I hand him the coffee.
If I knew how to whistle, I would have as I slowly took in the large windows that took up an entire wall, providing a gorgeous view of the park on the next block. “Wow, this place is great.”
“It kind of is,” he admits, taking a sip of his much too sugary drink.
“You realize this means you’re stuck here for a while,” I warn him when I notice the wall that’s been knocked down between the living area and the kitchen and the beginnings of a reading ledge against the window.
His gaze is fixed on me when I turn back towards him, his lips curving upwards into a smile against the lid of his cup. “I think I can handle that.”
There’s something about the way he’s looking at me that making warm bubbles tingle along my skin and I feel my breathing begin to quicken, so I immediately change the subject. “So what were you thinking? As far as decoration goes.”
“I don’t know,” he shrugs, glancing at the empty walls and bare shelves. “I just want it to feel like home.”
The bubbles get faster. “I get that.”
“Since I obviously still need to do some brainstorming on the decorating front, I figured I should start with the foundation,” he says, pointing to the buckets set atop a tarp on the other side of the room. “Paint.”
“Good plan,” I laugh, stepping out of my heels and reluctantly setting my coffee to the side. I dig out a spare hair tie from my tote bag and do my damn best to pay attention to Bodhi’s actual words as he excitedly tells me his plans for the hunter green paint and sends me to the opposite end of the wall to begin my work.
I’m managed to successfully cover a good four square feet of wall area when he says, “So. You know all about my tragic past. It’s your turn. Tell me about your parents.”
My lips instinctively raise into a smile. “Didn’t you meet them at the engagement party?”
“I was introduced,” he nods, “but we didn’t talk much.”
“Well, next time,” I shrug, certain there would be a next time. If he’s sticking around, he’ll undoubtedly be invited to all family gatherings in the future. “They’re pretty great. They’ve been together for thirty years and they’re still so in love.” I wrinkle my nose in mock disgust. “It’s both sickening and pretty incredible at the same time.”
Despite his laugh, some of the brightness in his eyes fades when I catch his gaze. “That must have been great while you were growing up, though. To have that kind of love and happiness in your house all the time.”
“It was great,” I agree. “They were open and loving and understanding and they never took themselves too seriously. I loved that I could tell them anything.”
My parents were my best friends and sometimes I couldn’t believe I was lucky enough to think of them that way.
“It’s hard for you, huh? Keeping the secret?”
I blink hard, glancing at him and wondering why I suddenly feel so cold. I clear my throat and nod. “Yeah. I think it would break their hearts if they knew it wasn’t real.”
“Because they want you to be with Brenton?” I can tell he’s trying to keep his tone neutral, but there’s a slight hint of pain.
I shake my head, assuring him that me marrying Brenton was never part of some grand plan. “Because they want me to find the kind of love that they have.”
He nods once, chewing on his lower lip and depositing a stripe of green paint on the wall as deliberately as possible. “And what do you want?”
That’s a loaded question and we both know it. I so desperately want to tell him what he longs to hear. But I know if I say it out loud there will be no going back. So I tell him a different truth. “I’m going to tell you a secret and you have to promise not to judge me.”
He shakes his head automatically. “Of course not.”
“I’ve never been in love before.” I rush the words out before I can lose the nerve to say them.
His posture softens a little. “No?”
“Nope,” I reply. “But for someone who’s never been in love, I feel like I spend a ridiculous amount of time thinking about what it must be like.”
I should probably be embarrassed by daydreams and the last thoughts I have as I fall asleep, but I can’t bring myself to care. There are worse things in the world than being idealistic or romantic.
“What do you hope it’s like?” he indulges me.
“The beach at night.”
As expected, his eyebrows lift in surprise. “You’re gonna have to explain.”
“My parents and I went on vacation to this island in the Caribbean when I was a teenager,” I say, resisting the urge to close my eyes and imagine the feel of the warm breeze, “and the first night we were there, after my parents were asleep, I snuck out onto the balcony. Our room faced the ocean, so I could see the waves gently washing up the shore. I remember sitting there and watching the moonlight reflect on the water and listening to the sounds of the sea and just feeling completely relaxed and content and invigorated about everything to come. And that’s what I hope being in love feels like.”
I hadn’t dared to look at him while I spoke, but manage to swing my gaze in his direction and find him staring at me. I momentarily forget how to breathe and I’m probably on the verge of passing out when he says, “That’s very poetic.”
His expression is flat for about a millisecond before his lips twitch and I roll my eyes. “Shut up. Since I revealed something deep, does that mean I get to ask you a question?”
“We’ve already talked about my deep, dark secrets,” he reminds me. As if I had forgotten about the day we went sightseeing. As if every single moment of that afternoon wasn’t permanently etched on my heart.
“Not quite,” I shake my head. “You haven’t told me who broke your heart.”
It was a question I’d been itching to ask, but I’d never thought the timing to be appropriate. It probably wasn’t the right time now either. But sue me, I was curious.
He’s quiet for a moment, turning his attention back to the wall before he speaks softly. “Her name was Leah. I was so in love with her.”
I don’t know why that revelation makes me ache. I take a calming breath and ask, “What happened?”
“We met in college.” He’s still staring at the wall, painting coat after coat of green on the same few inches of wall space. “Freshman year. My and Brenton’s room was across the hall from hers. We always ended up doing our laundry at the same time, so we’d talk. And the more we talked, the harder I fell. We dated for almost two years. And then one day she wasn’t in class, so I went to her place to make sure she was alright and found her in bed with her lab partner.”
I wince. “I’m sorry.”
He glances at me and lifts one shoulder in a shrug. “Sometimes I wonder if I should have seen it coming.”
Maybe he should have. Maybe the signs had been there. But maybe Bodhi was so desperate to see the good in everyone that he actively ignored the red flags. “I think no matter how cautious you are, that’s not something you’re ever prepared for.”
He shoots me a tight lipped smile. There’s another moment of silence as I wonder if we’ve gone too far down the into the deep end to recover the mood of the evening.
But then he flashes me a wicked grin and says, “Turning into a romantic, are you?”
If only he knew that I’ve been one since the moment we met. Still, I scoff. “You wish.”
I expect him to change the subject, but instead he locks his gaze on mine and says, “I do,” and my entire world tilts once more. I feel myself being called towards the ocean in the moonlight and it won’t be long until I can feel the water on my toes.
My lips part and I’m not even sure what I want to say, but I’m spared from the inevitable when a buzzing sound pulls my attention. “Do you hear that? I think my phone’s ringing.”
Setting down the paint brush, I make my way to my tote bag to unearth my phone, only to find multiple missed calls from my fake fiancé. “Shit. Brenton’s called me like ten times.”
“Call him back,” Bodhi suggests, understanding that the mood has shifted, despite the disappointment in his tone.
“I should probably go, anyway,” I wince apologetically, the grumbling of my stomach making me realize I haven’t eaten in much too long. “It’s getting late.”
He nods as he sets down his paintbrush and watches me step back into my shoes. I gather my totebag and my now cold latte and turn towards the door.
“You can’t run forever, Raina.”
I freeze, but I don’t look back. I can’t. My heart will break if I do. Still, he deserves so much more from me. At the very least, he deserves to know that this isn’t what I want. So I whisper, “I won’t,” and open the door before he can respond.
Stepping into the hallway, I shut the door behind me and take a few deep breaths to regain my composure before returning Brenton’s call.
“Raina, why the hell haven’t you been answering your phone?” he answers.
“Sorry, I was busy,” I reply, attempting to sound as casual as possible as I make my way towards the stairs. “What’s up?”
“I can’t tell you over the phone.”
“Why?” I furrow my brows in confusion, wondering why he’s being vague. “What happened?”
“Come to my place and I’ll tell you everything,” he says, “I need to ask you a favor.”
“Sure,” I reply automatically. “Anything.”
“I need you to marry me.”
I laugh. “I thought that was already happening.”
He doesn’t share in my humor, his tone slightly anguished as he speaks. “I’m being serious, Raina. I want to get married. As soon as possible.”
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