Chapter 17 - It’s real
My damn palms were sweating.
I couldn't remember the last time that I'd been genuinely nervous about anything and now I found myself racking my brain trying to make sure this night was as perfect as I could get it.
Because I cared about Eliza.
I'd cared about women before. Hell, I'd even loved one.
Lila's face invaded my brain but I shook it away. There wasn't one ounce of me that wanted to go back there but it reminded me that still needed to talk to her about that kiss.
My phone buzzed in my pocket.
I saw Eliza's name and almost dropped it trying to slipe too fast.
Eliza: Thank you for the flowers. They're beautiful.
Me: You're beautiful
No no no. Backspace and start the hell over.
There was no debate that Eliza was beautiful, but I'd met my corny quota for the day.
I took a deep breath and reminded myself that I wasn't some horny teenager. Although, more times than not that was exactly what I felt like around her.
I had this overwhelming need to be serious when it came to Eliza. We had no problem having fun but something inside told me that if I didn't show her how on board I was with her then she wouldn't think twice about ghosting me.
And the thought of her shutting me out? Hard pass.
One more deep breath and I began to type.
Me: You're welcome. I'm looking forward to tonight, E. I can't wait to see you.
It was forward, definitely. But I didn't see the point in telling her anything except the truth.
I was fantasizing about what outfit she would wear when I stepped into the shower. I kept the temperature as cold as I could possibly stand it as I mentally went through every dress that I'd ever seen her in. I don't know why I chose to torture myself but I found myself there anyhow.
I got dressed in the suit that I knew Eliza liked the most. She would never tell me of course, but I had my own ways of knowing what was going through her mind.
I watched her.
I paid very close attention to her mannerisms, her breathing, and when I was close enough, her heart rate.
Maybe it was a bit overkill. But maybe I didn't care.
She was very good at hiding her thoughts so I had to get creative. Sue me.
Her favorite suit, her favorite cologne, and I didn't shave my face. Anytime I skipped the opportunity for a smooth face, she would run her palm across my jawline over and over while I kissed her.
And hell, I liked the feeling of her hands on me even if it was only my jaw.
I swapped my keys out and looked over my apartment once more to make sure it was pristine.
I always went to Eliza's, she had never been to my house before and I tried to ignore that as much as I could. I didn't want to be offended that she'd never dropped in to see me as I did to her so frequently. That was a decision that I made, and I couldn't fault her for it.
I hadn't driven my truck in a while so it was long overdue. And it was one more thing that I knew Eliza liked. So even though it would make parking hell, I was taking it.
I parked in front of Eliza's building and squinted at the door. She was standing outside, with her thin arms wrapped around her middle.
What was she doing?
I groaned as I got out of my truck and walked in her direction. I stopped when I was a few feet away and she smiled up at me.
"This is a date, E. Get back upstairs so I can properly pick you up."
I told her while I shoved my hands in my pockets. Her smile faltered for a split second and I watched her eyes as they grazed over me before her smile widen again.
"As you wish, Mr. Bolthouse."
She smirked and let her arms fall to her sides, the coat she was wearing opened up long enough for me to get a peek of her outfit. A red dress that I had never laid eyes on hugged against her curves in a way that had me seriously contemplating following her back up to her apartment and locking the door behind us. But I managed to keep my feet planted against the sidewalk as I watched her walk through the lobby and into the elevator.
A few seconds later my phone buzzed.
I grinned as I typed my response and headed inside.
The elevator took its sweet time taking me to her floor so I booked it down the hallway once I stepped off. I knocked on her door and she opened it immediately.
She sighed as she put her hand on her hip. I was focusing on the dip in her waist as she cleared her throat.
I checked my watch.
"Sorry, E. Technical difficulties."
I grinned and extended my hand toward her. She took it and I pressed my lips to her cheek before stepping back so she could lock the door.
"Where to Mr. Bolthouse?"
"How do you feel about a taco truck?"
"I love tacos and trucks."
She shrugged and I slid my hand underneath her jacket at the small of her back as we walked out of the building.
"I would ask you how your day was but I already know."
"Perks of having the office right next door."
She raised her right eyebrow.
Yeah, that was the perk I was aiming for. Sure.
We made the short ride to the street where the best taco truck in the city had claimed as its home for the night.
"Never in a million years thought that Brady Bolthouse would eat from a food truck."
Eliza shook her head as I helped her out of the passenger side.
"I'm full of surprises, baby."
I joked and she pushed at my shoulder.
I liked that there was no pressure with Eliza. She was playful and engaging and not to mention interesting. I constantly found myself trying to predict what she would say in conversations that I sometimes wasn't even involved in. I had never once been right in my predictions, for the record.
We made it through the line and before I could ask her what she wanted she was already ordering. I laughed to myself and ordered when she was finished. And luckily I didn't have to fight her to pay for her meal.
It was a date.
We sat and talked while we ate. The entire thing was effortless and I realized at that moment that Eliza was my best friend. We could talk, or we didn't have to. Silence between us wasn't an issue like it would've been for anything else. It wasn't awkward or cringe-worthy. It was peaceful and made me breathe easier when I shared it with her.
I asked as she finished her last bite.
"Yes," I laughed before continuing, "there's more than tacos."
I pulled into the building and Eliza's head immediately snapped toward mine.
"The Arts Center? What are we doing here?"
She asked but I only shook my head.
"Brady, I don't think we're supposed to be here, the parking lot is empty and I know there's no show tonight."
She tugged at my hand as we walked closer to the building.
"I think we will be alright."
I pulled her along as we walked inside. It was quiet and most of the lights were off. She was right, there was no tonight. At least, not a scheduled one. But, I knew a guy. And I also knew a girl who loved the Symphony.
"I don't think we should go in there."
She whispered as I walked up to the auditorium's doors and pressed them open.
"I think we should."
I whispered back before pressing my lips to hers quickly.
We walked through the doors, the room was completely lit up like it would be on any other night when a performance was scheduled. We sat down front and center and the curtains opened. Eliza gasped and I couldn't help but look at her. She was on the edge of her seat, her small hand cradled in mine held on tighter and I squeezed it.
"You like it?"
I asked and she shook her head. For a second my heart dropped until the biggest grin I'd ever seen her wear stretched across her face.
"I love it."
She turned her head and slammed her mouth against mine for five seconds (I counted) before she tore away and gave the musicians her full attention. Six songs later Eliza was fully mesmerized by the music and I was only interested in her.
The performance was over and after a round of applause from their incredibly small audience and an introduction from my guy on the inside I pulled Eliza from the building.
She was silent as we walked to my truck.
"How did you know that I love the symphony? I've never told her."
Ah, I'd finally have to own up to my. . . creative tendencies.
"I pay attention to you."
I shrugged, hoping she'd leave it at that.
"Mmhmm. Normally, I'd grill the hell out of you. But I'm so happy I don't care about the details."
She sighed as she stared off into a daze.
I felt like I'd succeed. I managed to impress and surprise a girl that did both to me daily.
"Thank you, Brady. That was just. . . Just so thoughtful."
I laid my hand over her thigh and squeezed. The way she said that bothered the hell out of me but I decided not to concentrate on it.
I drove to my apartment and counted down the seconds until Eliza realized that I wasn't taking her home.
3 . . .
2 . . .
1 . . .
"Wait, where are we going?"
"My place. Figured you could sleep at my house for a change."
She said as she sat up straight.
I peeked over at her and she nodded.
Eliza stood in the doorway and gaped at her surroundings. It was a little much, even for me. I think the interior designer I hired went a little overboard with marble and whites but hey, what did I know?
"Come in. I'll show you around."
I said as I pulled her hand.
One tour later, a pit stop in the kitchen for wine, and I'd saved my room for last. Even though it probably wasn't for the reason she'd suspected.
"I'm going to change, you want to get out of those clothes too?"
I asked as I opened my bedroom door.
"I didn't bring anything with me."
She shrugged as she walked in after me.
Good thing I have plenty for you here.
"I've got that covered."
I pointed toward my closet and she narrowed her eyes before walking over.
A few seconds later she popped her head out.
"Brady, we've talked about this."
"No, you've talked about it and if I would've listened you'd be walking around my house naked. Now, while I have no issues with that I figured you wouldn't be a fan."
There, no room for argument.
She groaned then shut herself inside the space. When she emerged again she was in a light purple nightgown that I'd picked out all by myself. Her hair fell in waves around her shoulders and while I did want to devour her, I also wanted to wrap my arms around her and hold her a while. Which made no sense to me.
She didn't mention the mountain of clothes that I'd bought her and I counted it as a win. I was safe. At least until she saw the bathroom.
"Let's play a game."
I suggested and she raised her brows.
"Not that kind of game, E. Get your mind out of the gutter."
"Sorry, no can do. That's it's home of residency."
She smiled and damn it was pretty.
We sat down on the couch and I pulled the game off of the coffee table. I'd read that it was a good way to get to know someone. The cards had different levels of deepness or some shit like that.
I opened it up and flipped the first card over.
"What's your sleep schedule?"
What in the hell?
"8 hours at least."
Eliza said through a yawn then took a sip of her wine.
"Really? Good to know."
See? I was already learning.
"What do you spend the most time thinking about and why?"
Eliza's question rang in my ears. Not because it was a hard one but because I knew the answer the second she finished the question.
My daughter. I thought about her constantly and most of it was worry.
Eliza waited patiently for me and it made me wanna tell her even more.
"The baby. I think about her all the time. How she's doing in there, if she needs anything, if I could be helping her more than I am. Just everything."
Deep, too deep.
Eliza reached out and squeezed my hand around hers.
"She has everything she needs."
I nodded and grabbed another card. This continued for what seemed like hours. Eliza downed two more glasses of wine and was growing more giggly by the minute.
"What are you most scared of about relationships?"
I asked and once the question left my lips it felt off. It felt offensive in some way. I looked up to see Eliza setting her glass down. She chewed her bottom lip as she tried to collect her thoughts.
"I'm scared that I ask for too much."
Her voice was barely a whisper and it nearly broke my heart.
I wanted to laugh and punch something at the same time.
Eliza asked for nothing.
I could likely given her anything that she wanted. Had more money than I knew what to do with and she never asked me for one thing. Actually, she hated when I spent any money on her at all. And emotionally? Well, just one look at her and I knew she had the capability to hand her sweet heart over without a second thought.
So the fact that someone had made her think that she had possibly asked for too much pissed me the fuck off.
"Nah, you were just asking the wrong people."
I tried to sound as calm as possible but inside, I was seething.
"What do you mean?"
She tilted her head up and her eyes grew wider. She looked like a lost puppy and the need to wrap her in my arms was getting out of hand.
"You weren't asking too much, you just weren't asking the right person."
She stared at me for a few seconds before ducking her head into my chest. I held onto her tightly until I felt her breathing even out.
Eliza was drunk, and passed out.
Sober as a judge, and the right fucking person.