#8 Double rejection
When Mila gets back from Australia after three weeks, I’m obviously the one to pick her up from the airport. She looks sun-kissed and beautiful, but also a little sad. I get that. After missing Scarlett for over two months, she got three weeks with her, and now the little spitfire is off to Africa for God only knows how long. It must be hard to do long-distance. I don’t envy them.
“Okay, tell me everything,” Mila says the second she’s in the passenger seat. “I bombarded you with pictures and videos from my weeks with Scar, but I know hardly anything about what happened here.”
“Tracy obviously had the baby,” I start, thinking of Teagan. “He’s so cute.”
“Yeah, I saw the pictures. He really is. You know, for a baby.”
I roll my eyes at that. “Baby hater.”
“Not a hater, just not a fan.”
“Speaking of baby news…” I take a deep breath, not sure how she will take this. “Liv is nine weeks pregnant.”
“Oh wow, I’m so happy for her and James,” Mila replies without missing a beat. When I glance over, I see she’s smiling. “He must be over the moon.”
“Yeah, they’re not really telling people yet, but you know me. When I saw her drinking tea instead of coffee and smelled the ginger in it, I pestered her about it until she cracked. I just thought you should know, even if they’re keeping it under wraps for now.”
“Thanks.” Mila ruffles my hair, laughing. “I’m fine, though. I’ve been over him for ages now. I just spent three weeks traveling with my girlfriend, fucking her brains out in every hotel we stayed at. And in the car, three pools, several other quite public places…”
“You lucky bitch.”
“Exactly.” She sighs deeply. “I miss her already. But to get back to Liv and James, I’m happy for them. They deserve to be happy.”
She’s taking this whole thing better than I thought. I know they’re all friends now, but she did abort the baby he desperately wanted, and they broke each other’s heart in brutal fashion.
“How are the plans for the bakery going?” She sounds genuinely curious about how Liv is doing. “James texted me some pics, and it looks like the remodel is going well.”
“Oh yeah, it’s a big mess right now, and they had to close the bakery, but they’ll reopen at the end of next month. I’m working on the website with Andre, Liv and Thom, and it’s going to be amazing. It’s kind of perfect timing that the bakery had to close, because Liv is throwing up all the time, poor thing.”
Mila winces. “Yeah, first trimester sucks balls. Does that mean I can’t get her cupcakes for another month and a half?”
I laugh. “Don’t you know us at all? I’ve got a box in the back, honey.”
That gets her attention. She turns around and grabs the box from the backseat, opening it with a low growl. She starts stuffing her face right away, moaning at the delicious treat. Even though we’re just friends now, I can’t help that my dick stirs at the sound, and for a second I allow myself to think about when we last slept together. It’s a bittersweet memory of amazing sex and then getting shoved back into the friend zone right after.
Okay, time to close that box again. It’s all in the past, and we moved past that, thank God. I’m happy our friendship survived that epic mistake.
“How are things going with you and Kian?” Mila asks between bites.
“Great,” I reply honestly. “I hardly ever go home anymore. I go to Thom’s almost every day to work on our new projects, but the design stuff I now do at Kian’s place. I even moved Herbert to his house.”
“Ah, Herbert.” She laughs. “The houseplant that died and miraculously came back to live ten times already.”
“Twelve times by now. You were gone for a while.” I smile at the vision of my plant on his window sill. “He’s been going with me to hang out with Blaze, and my dad is making him do chores every time we go over for lunch or dinner. I think he’s glad to finally have a man around who knows how to handle a hammer and a drill, since I am utterly useless.”
“He’s hanging out with your family?” She sounds surprised to hear that, and I get that. Things were quite different when she left a month ago. “Wow. Okay. Is he also making more of an effort to hang out with your friends?”
“Yeah, when he can. He’s quite busy with work.” I sound defensive, and I hate that. “He came with me to Steffi’s birthday party, and he met Teagan not long after she was born.”
“So twice in a month.” She looks over me with a knowing look in her eyes. “You hang out with Thom and Tracy pretty much every day, and he’s seen them…. What? Four times since you started dating him?”
“Two times this month is progress.” I am not going to let her talk about Kian like that. “I love him, Mila. I know things aren’t perfect, but no relationship is.”
“I know, I know.” She takes another bite of her cupcake. “I’ll shut up now.”
“Give him a chance,” I plead with her. “Come over for dinner next week or something. You’ll see things are different. I swear they are.”
“You know I’ll never say no to a free meal prepared by others.” She groans. “It’s the only thing I will never stop missing about James. That man really knows how to spoil a woman.”
“And now poor Liv can’t stomach any of his food.” I shudder at the idea of feeling that ill because of a tiny little thing in your belly. Kids are great, but damn, they really know how to make their moms sick before they’re even born.
“Maybe I should offer to eat everything she can’t.” She laughs at the idea. “They’d probably even say yes. Okay, now tell me what you’ve got planned today. Please let it be fabulous.”
“I’m meeting up with Andre to film him making coffee.”
“Wow, that sounds… boring.”
I roll my eyes. “Not even close. The guy could make watching paint dry interesting, I swear. I can’t believe you haven’t met him yet. He’s hilarious, and very cute.”
“Gimme pictures,” she demands when we’re at a stoplight.
I hand her my phone and she enters my code without even needing to ask. She opens my picture gallery, smiling when she sees a few of me, Blaze and Kian at the zoo. Then she finds one of Andre and Liv outside of the bakery, and she zooms in on him.
“You’re right, he’s very cute.” She puts my phone back down. “Are you hanging out with him a lot?”
I shrug. What’s a lot, right? “Just sometimes, when we work on the website. Mostly at Liv’s place now that the bakery is closed. We’re shooting at a friend’s place today, because apparently the guy has a beautiful kitchen that is nicer than his own.”
“Why don’t you just shoot at Kian’s house? That place is fancy, right?”
“Yeah, I thought of that, but Kian is working from home today, and I don’t want to disturb him.” Or rather, Kian asked me not to do it at his place, and I complied. But Mila doesn’t need to know that. She’ll draw conclusions again, and that’s not fair. Kian’s work is important.
“Do you need my cameras to film?” Mila asks. “Is that why you waited until today to do this? To borrow my stuff?”
I grin. “No way, I have your key after all. This is just a coincidence. I have no trouble stealing your stuff. Do you wanna tag along?”
“I’d love to, but I have a hot date with my shower, then I need some sleep, and I’ve got four one-on-one sessions tonight, so I can’t.” She yawns. “Maybe first bed, then shower. Traveling really takes it out of you.”
She’s not wrong about that. After I’ve dropped her off at her place, I text Andre to let him know I’m on my way. He texts back to let me know his bus is delayed, so he’ll be later than planned.
I call him immediately, and he picks up on the first ring. “The bus?” I ask.
“Yeah, you know, that lovely invention that takes people places?” he replies without missing a beat. “It’s got wheels, a driver, and passengers. Ring any bells?”
“Why don’t you take your car?”
“Because I don’t have one.”
Oh. Fuck. I always assume everyone has a car. “Text me your location. I’m picking you up.”
“You really don’t have to-”
“Do you want me to drive around the city to check every bus stop, or are you going to make things easy for me?”
“Okay, fine. Thanks.”
Ten minutes later, I pull up at the bus stop where Andre and two old women are waiting. When he gets in, I see that the sign says all buses are delayed, so I offer the women a ride as well.
“You don’t know them,” Andre whispers, looking at me like I’m crazy.
“They’re old and frail, I think we can take them. Just don’t give them your credit card.”
He rolls his eyes and settles into the passenger seat. “You’re so weird.” He doesn’t say it like it’s a bad thing, though. He sounds like he’s marveling over the world, like it’s the best treat I could have out of all good things to be.
I drop the two sweet old ladies off at their friend’s house, and then Andre and I are off again.
“I like your outfit,” he says with a small grin. “Very… understated.”
I laugh at that description of my bright pink shirt with yellow ducks on it. “Yeah, I am the king of subtle clothing designs. I see you’re wearing your uniform again.” By that I mean his backwards baseball cap and plaid shirt. Every single day I’ve seen him, he wears an open button-down shirt in different shades of red, blue, and green, with a plain black T-shirt underneath. He only seems to own one pair of dark-washed jeans – or he has the same one multiple times. Match that with black sneakers and his eternal baseball cap, and you have a good sense of what Andre looks like every single day.
“I’m nothing if not consistent,” he agrees.
“I’ve got to ask… Do you never wash your jeans, or do you have the same pair more than once?”
“Seven identical pairs of dark blue jeans,” he replies, laughing. “When you find a pair that makes your ass look good and that are comfy, why not buy them in bulk?”
“Erm… fashion?” I ask, appalled at the idea of only owning one outfit. “What if you’re not in a dark blue jeans kind of mood?”
“Then I must be sick or dead.” He doesn’t sound bothered by my questions at all. “Anything else you’d like to know? Yes, I did buy all my shirts at the same store, in case you’re wondering. And I only own one pair of shoes. When they get too old, I buy new ones, from the same brand, preferably the exact same ones if they’re still in stock.”
“You baffle me, Andre. You should be studied.”
“I tell you my deepest, darkest secrets, and you immediately want to cut open my brain?” He’s laughing now, a deep sound that fills me with happiness. “I really do love all your quirky outfits, but I’d never wear something like that myself.”
“I own six glitter suits,” I admit. “Silver, gold, pink, blue, purple, and rainbow.”
“Of course you do.” He doesn’t sound surprised in the least. “How many pairs of shoes do you own? Twenty?”
“You’re certifiably insane. I think it’s you who should be studied.”
We keep up the banter until we’re at his friend’s place. He’s not home, so Andre lets us in, holding open the door for me. I wink at him as I walk inside. “Such a gentleman.”
“Not at all.” His voice is low. “Trust me. Not at all.”
Why that sounds dirty is beyond me, but it does. And I quite like it. I shrug it off and take in the kitchen that is indeed perfect to make reels and take pictures. It has the same vibe as the bakery, with lots of white, pink and blue.
“I’m gonna set up the cameras and the light thingy and stuff.”
“The light thingy,” he repeats with a glint in his eyes. “You’re such a professional.”
“Don’t mock the guy who is going to make you look fucking good.” I start taking equipment out of Mila’s bags. I’m not a professional photographer, but I’ve learned a lot from her, I’m a tech wiz and – if I may say so myself – a creative genius, so I do know what I’m doing.
“Make me look good?” Andre sounds amused. “Don’t I already look good?”
“Oh, you do, but wait until you see what I can do with a camera and some music underneath shots of your wicked coffee making skills. You’re gonna become an Instagram god.”
The next two hours, I prove to him that I’m worth my paycheck. Well, not exactly, because he’s not paying me, but… you know what I mean. I’ve got mad skills. I’ll edit everything at home, but I do decide to edit one right now, right here, so I can give him a taste. He gives me the cappuccino he just made with a cute little bunny in the foam, and I almost don’t wanna drink it. It’s so damn cute.
“Okay, here we go.” I turn the laptop screen in his direction. “Prepare to be amazed.”
As Andre watches himself, I love how his eyes go wide. I timed the music so it looks like he’s working on the beat, and both him and the fancy coffee look good enough to eat. Or drink, or whatever. When he shows the camera the end result and then takes a sip, sighing contently, the music fades so you can hear him making a low, throaty sound, and then say: “Want a cup of coffee this good? And a piece of cake to go with it? Cup of Joy coffee shop and Piece of Cake bakery open on June 25th.”
“Damn, that looks professional.”
I grin. “And you look good, don’t you?”
“Am I terribly conceited if I agree with you?”
“Not if you’re the tastiest thing on camera, including this amazing coffee.” I take another sip of mine. “You’ve got mad skills too, Andre.”
His smile is warm. “I don’t know how to thank you.”
“A lifetime of free coffee.”
He snaps his finger. “Done.”
Hah. He has no idea I’ll be at the bakery every single day, taking him up on that. If he’s not careful, I will bankrupt him. Then again, the new website and social media campaign will bring him and Liv so much clientele they can surely afford some free coffees and treats for me. And if not, I guess I could start paying for my daily cupcake. Ugh.
“I’ve been meaning to ask,” Andre says as we’re cleaning up. “Did everything turn out okay with your boyfriend? You seemed really upset that one time, but you haven’t brought it up since, so I wasn’t sure I should.”
“Oh, we’re good,” I assure Andre. “Better than good. We’re doing great.”
“That’s nice to hear.”
My phone chimes when we’re loading everything into the car, and I stop to check it.
“Good news?” Andre asks when I do a little jump and squeal.
“Excellent news. My friend Derrek needs a karaoke partner and Liv is too pregnant to feel up to it, so he’s inviting me along. His husband is coming too, but he’s not a fan of singing.”
“Is that Derrek as in Liv’s ex-husband?” Andre asks. “Oh, he’s great. I met him and Matt a few weeks ago when they dropped off Nova with Liv and James.”
“Do you want to come?” I ask on a whim. “We’re going to The Palace. Two friends of mine – well, friends of a friend, I guess, but let’s just call Shaughna and Dshawn my friends to not make things too complicated – anyway, they own the place.”
“Your friends own the hottest nightclub in town?” Andre whistles. “Damn. You have friends in high places. I don’t want to impose, though. Shouldn’t you ask your boyfriend to go with you?”
“Oh, I will.” I’m already texting Kian. “But we’re going with a group of friends. Imani and Deidra are going too - you know, Liv’s friends. You’ve met them. I think Fran and Josh might stop by. It’s kind of annoying when they do, because they blow us all out of the water. It’s so unfair for professional musicians to do karaoke. They’re in a band.”
“A band I might have heard of?”
“Do you know Pink Angels?”
“Holy shit, you’re friends with the lead singers of Pink Angels?” Andre looks even more impressed now.
“Like you said, friends in high places and all. Do you want to come? Maybe they will sign your butt cheek for you.”
“My butt cheek?” Andre repeats. “You want me to drop my pants to desperately that you will come up with a plan that stupid just to accomplish your goal?”
“Anything to get you naked, baby,” I shoot back with a wink. Kian texts back then, saying he’s not really feeling karaoke tonight, but that I should go and have fun. Well, that sucks, but I can’t expect him to want to go out on a weeknight when he’s swamped with work. “Kian is not coming,” I tell Andre. “Please tell me you are. I can’t deal with double rejection.”
“Sure, I’ll come.”
I hold up the keys of my car. “Do you want to drive back?”
“I’d love to, but that might not be the best idea since I don’t have a driver’s license.”
There I go again, assuming things. He doesn’t look like he wants to talk about it, so I bite my tongue for once. I’ll ask him some other time. I drive, and we chat about how I got to know Fran, Josh, Shaughna and Dshawn. He tells me about his friends, and he sounds just as fond of them as I feel when I talk about my friends. Like they’re more than friends. They’re family.
I drop him off at his place, interested to learn he lives only two blocks away from the bakery. The apartment complex is small, but neat, and I get why he loves to live in this neighborhood. Nice and close to where the bars and stores are, but not so close you won’t get any sleep. I tell him I’ll pick him up tonight at 10 for karaoke, and ignore his protests that he can take public transportation. I just wave and drive off, back to Kian’s house for dinner before I go out with my friends.
It sucks that Kian doesn’t feel like coming, but I won’t let that stop me from having a good time.