Mending Heart

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Chapter 34

I Know Where You Live

“and yes, there are over a million words in our language but for some reason none of them can describe the way you make me feel.” – r.m. drake


“So,” Taylor smirked, leaning against the door of her new apartment arms folded over her chest. “When am I going to get to meet this mystery man that has you smiling like you just won the lottery.”

“Just because I’m smiling, doesn’t mean that a man is behind it.” I defended, pushing one of the boxes out of the way to make room for the next batch we had to bring up. Taylor had officially moved back to Chicago as of last week and I was currently helping her move some of her stuff in. She finished her last semester as a research assistant at Michigan last week, and she was all set to start teaching her first class at UChicago in a few weeks when the next semester started after the holidays.

“It could be because my favorite roommate is moving back and I get to see her more often.” I continued, placing my hands on my hips. Taylor cocked an eyebrow, staring at me expectantly. “Sure.” She smirked, the look on her face indicating she didn’t believe me.

“It’s true!” I rolled my eyes. “Tay it’s been years since we’ve lived in the same city together. Meg is happily married. You’re starting your dream job. I’m seeing a really great guy I can see a future with. I don’t know, it just feels like everything is finally coming together.”

Her eyes softened as she began walking towards me. “I’m going to give you a hug now.” Then, she wrapped her arms around me and said, “Seeing you so happy, makes me happy Kenz.”

“I am happy. I promise.” I squeezed her tightly before pulling back. Now typically, I’m not much for a hugger, but every once in a while it feels good to show some affection.

“Good.” She flashed me a smile, squeezing my hands. “But I still want to meet him!”

“We’ll all have lunch or something soon.” I rolled my eyes, pulling the door open so we could go back down to the U-Haul and bring some more boxes up.

“Didn’t Megan say she was coming over to help?” I grumbled as I placed a box labeled Pantry down in the kitchen after our second trip downstairs.

“She probably forgot now that she’s a married woman.” Taylor laughed. “For all we know, she forgot because she’s too busy making babies.”

I scrunched up my face and I glared at her. “I did not need that visual this early in the morning.”

Taylor threw her head back and laughed, just as Megan’s voice rang out from the living room. “Hi!” She yelled. “I brought reinforcements.” When Megan walked into the kitchen, Eric and Megan’s brother, Kevin, trailed behind her.

“Oh my gosh, Kevin!” Taylor yelped, jumping to her feet and rushing towards Kevin. “Look at you – you’re all grown up.”

“Hey...” He awkwardly replied as Taylor enveloped him in a hug. “Long time no see.”

“Can you believe this?” Taylor turned towards me to ask. “I swear it was like yesterday that he would stay locked in his room all day playing video games when we’d go to Megan’s parents for dinner to get away from the crappy dorm food.”

I nodded, smiling at the memory. Kevin was eleven back then, while the three of us were freshmen in college. Fast forward to the present, Kevin wasn’t the scrawny kid waiting to get blown away by the wind at any moment. No – he had buffed up, grown into his height and the acne had cleared.

“It’s good to see you Kev.” I waved from where I was still sitting on the floor, sorting through one of the boxes.

“What about me?” Eric asked, mocking feeling hurt.

“It’s okay babe.” Megan patted his shoulder sympathetically. “I’m always glad to see you.”

“Gross!” Kevin and Taylor echoed in unison while I made fake gagging noises.

It took us the entire day, but we finally got Taylor all moved in and unpacked. All the furniture had been moved in and assembled thanks to Kevin and Eric, everything had been taken out of the boxes and placed where it belonged, and all that was left was for Taylor to enjoy her new apartment.

“Alright bitches,” Taylor said, rubbing her hands on her jeans and drawing my attention away from the TV. “What’s the plan for tomorrow?”

I lifted an eyebrow in her direction, taking another bite of my pad Thai. Megan on the other hand smirked widely and her eyes sparkled with mischief. “Your birthday, silly!”

“It’s tomorrow already?” I asked, pulling my phone out from the front pocket of my hoodie. Friday, December 17. I was genuinely taken aback that yet another year had passed by, and I would be turning twenty-nine tomorrow.

How time flies when you’re a hot mess, I thought.

“Yes, it’s tomorrow!” Megan exclaimed, getting up to throw away her empty paper plate.

“What’s tomorrow?” Eric looked over at us, a confused look on his face.

“Kenzie’s birthday,” Megan replied, unscrewing the cap on a water bottle and taking a sip. “The last year of your twenties. I’m excited.” I narrowed my eyes in her direction, as she smiled innocently. A little too innocently, if you ask me.

“You better not be planning anything crazy, Meg,” I warned her, but it seemed to do little to affect her as she and Taylor shared a look. “I know that look!” I gestured between the two of them.

“What look?” Taylor smiled sweetly, holding my gaze.

“You know what look!” I rolled my eyes. “No surprise parties. You know I don’t like people.”

“You like us!” Megan laughed, playfully rolling her eyes.

“I know where you live,” I grumbled, my eyes narrowed in slits and darting between the two of them suspiciously.

“Is that supposed to be a threat?” Megan snorted as she and Taylor giggled at my murderous glare.

Sometimes, I really think I need new friends.

......

When I woke up the next morning, it was because of the insistent buzzing coming from my nightstand. Reaching out with my eyes still closed, I felt around until my fingertips touched the cold screen. Cracking one eye open, I slid the answer button without checking to see who it was.

“What?” I grumbled, still half asleep.

“HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU!”

“HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU!”

“HAPPY BIRTHDAY DEAR MCKENZIE.” Zoey’s shrill and overly enthusiastic voice ran out.

“Are you fucking crazy?” I glared at her through the screen, now fully awake. Hell – she probably woke up the dead as well.

“Happy Birthday Kenzie.” Zoey smiled sheepishly before scolding me. “Don’t be such a grump on your birthday!”

“What time is it?” I asked, sitting up in bed, rubbing the sleep from my eyes.

Since it’s my birthday and all, shouldn’t people let me sleep in and whatnot?

“Nine-thirty,” Zoey replied. “Please don’t tell me you plan on sleeping all day.”

“Not all day, smartass.” I rolled my eyes. “But definitely longer than the crack of dawn. Or so that was the plan.”

“Not going to work has made you lazy.”

“Being away at college has made you a smartass.”

“You love me.”

“That’s debatable.”

“Please – I’m your only sister.”

“I still maintain the fact that you’re adopted.”

"You’re adopted.” She stuck her tongue out, laughing. Then, something in front of her caught her attention and she quickly added, “I gotta go Kenz. I’ll call you later.”

“By –” She hung up before I even finished my goodbye.

Deciding that there was no point in going back to sleep now since it was fairly late in the morning, I threw the covers off me and went to take a shower. After putting on a pair of black leggings, a navy blue oversized sweater, and grabbing a pair of fuzzy socks out of my dresser, I made my way into the kitchen.

While a fresh pot of coffee was brewing, I cracked two eggs into a bowl and started chopping up some spinach, peppers, and mushrooms for an omelet. For the past couple of weeks, I had gotten in the habit of making myself breakfast – a little something I had been trying out since I was no longer working.

Caryn said I should look at it as a new hobby, something to distract me and place my focus on.

I had just turned off the stove when a loud knock made me jump. Setting my plate on the kitchen island in passing, I opened the front door and was immediately hit with a large bouquet of what appeared to be two dozen roses.

“Delivery for McKenzie Anderson.” The short, middle-aged delivery man said.

“That’s me.” I eyed him wearily, signing the clipboard he shoved my way.

“Have a nice day.” He replied, handing me the flowers before turning around and leaving.

Someone clearly didn’t like their job very much, I thought as I closed the door behind me.

Setting the flowers on the counter, I took a seat on the stool and pulled out the attached envelope.

“Happy Birthday, Cupcake.”

I couldn’t help but laugh. I swear, he gets cheesier by the day.

Still admiring the impressive flower arrangement with a goofy grin on my face, I picked up my phone and dialed Ethan’s number. When it went straight to voicemail, I remembered he said his flight wasn’t getting in until this afternoon.

McKenzie: You’re so cheesy but I love it. Thank you for the flowers ;)

.......

I had just finished lunch with my mom and was waiting for the valet to bring my car around when my phone rang.

“Look who made it back on American soil alive.” I teased, taking my car key from the valet and mouthing a quick thank you.

“Very funny, McKenzie.” Ethan sighed, exhaustion seeping through his voice.

“Rough trip?” I asked, bucking my seatbelt and readjusting the rearview mirror.

“You have no idea.” He replied, a TSA announcement coming through in the background. “What are you doing tonight?”

“Nothing as of right now.” All had been quiet on the Taylor and Megan front, making me think that perhaps they took my threat seriously last night.

“Come over. I missed you.” Ethan said, and I swear I could hear him pouting through the phone.

“Stop going on so many business trips then.” I rolled my eyes, biting my lower lip. I hadn’t seen him since we got back from New York because he left for France the following day. I found myself missing him while he was gone, and it gave me a lot to think about.

I heard him sign on the other line. “It’s the last one this year. I promise.”

I hummed in response. “I’m going to go pick up a couple of presents for some people, and then I’ll stop by.”

“What are you getting me?” He teased.

“You’ll just have to wait and see until Christmas day.” I laughed nervously. Truth be told, I had absolutely no fucking idea what to get the man that had everything.

“I’ll see you soon, McKenzie.” He chuckled before hanging up.

I spent the next couple of hours doing some serious damage to my credit cards. After two back and forth trips to my car and some serious line indents in my skin from the multiple shopping bags I was holding, I finally got in my car and headed to Ethan’s.

When I pulled into his driveway, it was quiet and the only light on in the house was off to the side and in his dining room. Wrapping my coat around me tighter, I rang the doorbell and waited for him to answer.

As soon as the door opened, I slipped past him and ushered him to close the door. It was freezing out today, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we got snow soon.

“Hello to you too.” He bit his lip with a smirk, taking my coat from me and hanging it up. I kept the scarf tightly wrapped around me as I stood on my tippy toes and pecked his lips.

“What are you cooking?” I looked up to meet his gaze when his hands wrapped around my waist, holding me in place. “It smells really good.”

“Just dinner.” He said, his calm and soothing voice sending warm tingles throughout my body. “But it won’t be ready for another hour, so we can just watch a movie or something.”

As he led us towards the living room, I noticed the house was unusually dark. I turned to him, “Why are all th –”

I didn’t get to finish my sentence because the lights suddenly turned on and a large group of people yelled out, “SURPRISE!”

I stood there for a minute frozen, my mouth agape before I turned to Ethan. “You!” I pinned him with a glare, but it quickly disappeared when I saw his crooked grin.

“Happy Birthday, baby.” His soft lips brushed my cheek before he gave me a slight push in the direction of the dozen or so people eyeing us with curious gazes – some genuinely confused and others sporting knowing smirks.

As my eyes scanned the room, I saw all my closest family and friends, but one person stood out in particular.

My evil little sister, who was supposed to be in Philadelphia.

“And you!” I wrapped my arms around Zoey in a tight hug. “You said you weren’t coming home until Monday!”

“And miss your birthday?” She snorted, playfully rolling her eyes. “Please –”

After greeting everyone in the room and thanking them all for the birthday wishes, I made my way towards Ethan who was talking to Eric as if the two had been friends for years and didn’t just meet less than an hour ago.

“You two look chummy,” I said, allowing Ethan to wrap his arm around my shoulder.

“Kenzie, where have you been hiding this one?” Eric laughed, taking a swing of his beer.

“Oh you know, in my secret dungeon.” I nonchalantly replied, eliciting a deep laugh from both men.

“I’m still waiting for that formal introduction,” Taylor said walking up to us with Megan in tote.

Rolling my eye, “Taylor, Ethan.” I gestured between the two of them. “Ethan, Taylor.”

“It is so nice to finally meet you.” Taylor gave me a pointed look, placing a rather unnecessary emphasis on the word finally.

“Likewise.” Ethan chuckled, shaking her hand. “McKenzie’s told me a lot about you.”

“All good I hope.” She raised an eyebrow.

“Don’t worry,” I leaned in towards Taylor pretending to whisper. “I didn’t tell him about our illegal adventures. Not yet anyway.”

Ethan squeezed my waist playfully and I glanced up at him, flashing him a sugary sweet smile. He gave me a curious look but didn’t say anything more.

After the candles had been blown out and an excessive amount of alcohol later, everyone had cleared out and it was just Ethan and I alone.

Once I put the leftover cake in the fridge, I walked up behind Ethan who was clearing the countertops and wrapped my arms around his waist. “Thank you for tonight,” I mumbled against the fabric of his white t-shirt. Twisting around so that he was facing me, Ethan peered down at me looking vaguely surprised.

“Are you okay? Is the alcohol getting to your head?” He pretended to check my temperature by placing his hand against my forehead.

“Shut up!” I playfully shoved his chest and a smile tugged on his lips.

“Did you have fun?” He asked, fighting and failing to conceal his smile.

“I did.” I nodded against his chest, his musky cologne invading my nostrils. “Thank you for setting it up.”

“All I did was let your friends use my house.” He shrugged with an easy smile, bringing his hand up to lift my chin. His fingers slowly traced up and down my spine, his eyes holding mine captive. My hands went limp against his chest, and I felt a surge of heat rush through me.

He was so sweet.

So gentle.

So caring.

So... so lovable.

“Happy birthday, Cupcake.” He tilted his head and touched his cool lips to mine, slowly at first. One hand gripped my waist and the other wrapped around my neck, bringing me closer to him. Adrenaline rushed through me as I parted my lips, our tongues clashing.

Everything about him felt right.

My hands knitted in his hair, tugging him closer to me. I was just about to pull back and tell him we could finish cleaning up tomorrow when Sweetie came barking in – running at full speed towards us and wagging her tail.

Ethan’s thumb brushed against my lips, and I found myself gasping for air. “I think Sweetie needs to be let out.”

“Sweetie is a cockblock.” His half-closed eyes were now wide open and he playfully glared at the ginormous dog who continued to pant and wag her tail, completely oblivious to her actions.

“Shut up.” I laughed, pulling back from his grasp and playfully shoving him towards the back door.

Men.

_____________________________________________

Fun fact, this chapter was supposed to be part of the previous one but it would have been too long so I split it into two. I had a lot of fun writing this one 🤩

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