Like in grade four when he'd dared me to jump from the highest point of the playground equipment, earning me a broken arm. Or the time we'd snuck into his neighbor's pool for a midnight swim, only to get caught and grounded for what felt like a century.
In grade ten, he'd convinced me to submit my art to a contest, even though I thought I'd never be good enough to win. And when I did win - first place - we celebrated by skipping school in favor of a movie marathon in his basement.
Some people (my mother) would say he was a bad influence, but I saw things differently. He made me brave. He made me want to try new things and put myself out there.
So, on my twenty-first birthday when Nick told me to put on my favorite dress and be ready by five, I didn't question him. I wore the red dress with the plunging neckline, the one I bought with my hard earned waitressing tips. And it was totally worth it to get his reaction... I loved watching his blue eyes take me in from head to toe. His cheeks flushed, his voice grew gravelly as he said hello, opening the passenger door to his worn out truck and helping me inside. His hands trembled, careful not to linger on the small of my waist for too long.
Nick had always been courageous, except when it came to me.
We drove in silence, a hum of excitement in the air, anticipation of what was to come next. When we pulled up outside a fancy hotel on 17th street, I shot him a questioning glance.
"Trust me," was all he said - all he needed to say.
I followed him inside, careful not to trip in the sky high heels I really should have practiced walking in beforehand. Quickly, I realized we were about to enter a large banquet hall.
"I didn't know you were invited to a wedding," I said, my eyes scanning over the rustic sign that read Welcome to our happily ever after - Sarah and Oliver.
Smirking, he said, "I wasn't. But look, there's an open bar, and you're finally legal."
My palms suddenly felt sweaty, my heartbeat accelerated at the realization that he wanted to crash the wedding. "But what if we get caught?" I asked him.
And we didn't.
To this day, I still wasn't sure how we managed to avoid the happy couple or how Nick convinced the other guests he was a second cousin to the groom. But that was Nick for you - always charming, always the life of the party. No one batted an eye at us all night. Granted, we were only two of about four hundred guests, so it was easy enough to go unnoticed.
We drank to our hearts content, ate a delicious plated dinner at a table filled with friendly strangers, and danced the night away. Each cocktail cut away our inhibitions, each slow song bringing us closer and closer until the space between us was non-existent. I desperately wanted him to kiss me.
Now, three years later, anything from Nick would have sufficed - a hug, a phone call, one of his silly jokes.
But since that wasn't possible, I did what I always did when I felt the sting of nostalgia creep up on me. I grabbed a book, made myself a cup of coffee, and sat on the front porch swing as the birds whistled and a breeze gently rustled my potted daisies. The morning sun was comforting and warm. Something about being outside always helped to calm my mind.
As noon approached, the sound of a car door shutting grabbed my attention. A man emerged from a black Mercedes parked at the curb. Immediately, I recognized his tall build and dark head of hair. He was the realtor for the house next door which had been up for sale for quite some time. I'd noticed him around, showing the house to prospective buyers.
The hammer in his hand didn't look right with the expensive looking suit he wore. I watched as he pounded a sign into the grass that read OPEN HOUSE 1-3pm.
My stomach did a familiar twist as an idea formed in my head. I knew it was probably a bad one, but didn't care enough to chase the thought away. Closing my book, I abandoned it next to my empty mug, then hurried inside to get dressed.
. . .
An hour later, I made the short walk over to #14, the house with the unique-A frame and enormous, triangular windows, clear as the lake they looked onto. I had impeccable timing, too. A couple who appeared to be in their fifties filed out of their car and began the walk to the front door. I thought I was pretty genius, walking closely behind them as if I was part of their group. No one would have to be the wiser.
Crashing this open house wasn't nearly as exciting as crashing a wedding. There was no pretty dress or lavish hotel. There was no expensive dinner. There was no Nick.
Once inside, I knew I had to be strategic or risk being questioned by the realtor - and I was a terrible liar. But I'd wanted to see inside this house for so damn long. Normally, I'd have just taken a container of cookies over and introduced myself to the neighbors, which would have undoubtedly earned me an invitation inside. But there was never a neighbor for me to befriend. The place had been for sale since I moved in next door.
"Oh, look at the tile," the woman said, pointing to the flooring in the entrance. "It's interesting."
That was a nice way to put it. And calling it tile was being generous. It was obviously linoleum made to look like tile, and frankly, it was hideous.
"It needs to be replaced," the man said firmly. "I thought we wanted something turn-key. Why bother looking at the rest?"
"Don't be rude," the woman scolded her husband as I made my escape from the pair.
I walked around an awkwardly placed wall that cut off the view from the front door to the back of the house. Behind the wall was a large kitchen and dining room where a peninsula held a marvellous spread of appetizers that I immediately took advantage of.
As I munched on fresh fruit, I studied the area, and all I could think was how much wasted potential there was here. The space was ample, but the finishes were all over the place. I had no idea what decade the home was built in because it had everything from shag carpet to floral wallpaper to orange oak cabinets and green countertop.
What the actual f?
And the further I ventured inside, the more I understood why it hadn't sold. Everything was outdated. Yellowy-beige walls. Tarnished nickel fixtures. A weird smell in the main bathroom made me wonder what sort of problems were hidden in the walls. The den off the front door was colder than the rest of the house, and I could hear my Dad's voice in my head saying, "it's not properly insulated, Presley. Why do people always cut corners?"
On top of all that, the staging was horrendous. The couch in the family room was far too large for the space, and it sat atop a hideous, puke green rug. Rug on top of rug. But why? Cringe.
I swore, having an eye for design was sometimes a heavy burden to bear.
As the couple I snuck in with proved, no one in the market to buy a house on the lake was going to want to fix this place up. They'd want to spend their time hosting BBQ's on the covered deck or practicing their cannonballs off the dock that was no more than twenty feet from the back door.
After filling up my second plateful of appetizers, I ventured down the hall to the master bedroom. I gaped at the atrocity that hung in the center of the beautiful vaulted ceiling. Brass may have been coming back in style, but not like this. That light fixture needed to go. Pronto.
"Stop right there," a deep voice said from behind me.
Shit. Had I been found out?
Sheepishly, I turned on my heel only to come face to face with the realtor - Calvin or Chad or something? His name was on the sign out front, the same sign his face was plastered to. Of course, he was super good looking - probably a requirement for the job.
"Did you check out the ensuite? Huge jacuzzi tub with jets," he said, gesturing to the adjacent room.
I breathed a giant sigh of relief. Guess I hadn't been as transparent as I thought.
"Not just yet," I replied, wondering what I should do next. If I tried to pretend I actually wanted to buy the house, he'd definitely know I was bluffing.
But what if he found out I was just here for the free food and to judge the shit out of the house?
I was like Simon Cowell, but for interiors. I could honestly say this is the worst house in the town. Thank you, but no. There are only so many words in my vocabulary to say how awful the place looks.
I knew people crashed open houses all the time, but I felt like I was breaking some unspoken rule. It was just dishonest, that's all. It had been much easier to play pretend with Nick by my side.
"Why don't you let me give you a little tour?" he asked, extending one arm towards the ensuite doorway.
I obliged, following him into the surprisingly large room. It definitely had potential... if you gutted it completely and started over.
"Nice," I said, giving a nod to the tiny shower with the outdated metal trim. Why the hell have a room this big with a shower that small?
"You don't seem convinced."
"No, it's great, really. I mean..." I took a beat, glancing around the room before coming back to look the handsome realtor in his eyes. "Okay, I'm lying. It's bad."
He chuckled, which put me somewhat at ease. "That's fair. It might not be everyone's style."
"It's no one's style," I said, under my breath.
"What was that?"
"Nothing. I didn't say anything." I opened the cabinet door on the vanity and peered inside, buying myself time.
"Are you interested in viewing a more modern home? I just listed a much more contemporary style home over on High Street."
"Oh, that's okay," I said.
"What kind of home are you in the market for?" he asked.
I froze. "Umm. I'm not really sure."
He narrowed his eyes and took a step closer to me. "Is it because you live in the house next door?"
Oh. Shit. How did he know that? "Umm. Maybe."
"Unless you're looking to buy this place, too? Knock them both down and build a mansion?"
I laughed nervously. "Yes, with my many millions of dollars."
He didn't look impressed, which caused me to laugh harder. Why the hell did laughing have to be my default reaction in an awkward situation?
"So if you're not looking to buy a house, why are you here?"
With that, I managed to get myself under control, and suddenly, the room felt much smaller than it had a couple of minutes ago. I understood that hanging out at an open house where I had no intention of buying anything was kind of lame, but it's not like I was actually doing anything wrong. It's not like I'd kicked a baby or stole from a nun. His tone was more than uncalled for.
When I didn't answer right away, he continued. "I noticed you enjoying a couple plates of appetizers, as well."
My cheeks burned. "Those mini garlic breads were delicious."
Fuck. Seriously, Presley? That's what you say next?53
"Yes, and they are meant for people who are serious about purchasing a home, not some mooch looking for a free meal."
I was about to let myself out quietly, but after that comment, something in me snapped.
"I may have eaten your rare beef, but that doesn't mean you get to question my motives for being here." I straightened my posture, keeping my eyes pinned on the realtor. "This house has been on the market for a while now. Hmmm, I wonder why it hasn't sold?" I tilted my head thoughtfully. "Oh, probably because you are a condescending prick!"
"Excuse me?" He asked, his tone laced with irritation.
Not about to let this ridiculous conversation continue, I slipped past him and into the bedroom, inhaling his cologne as I did. Douchebags shouldn't be allowed to smell that fucking good.
Before I left the master suite, I chanced one last glance at the man I'd managed to royally piss off. His jaw was rigid, full lips set into a line, brows furrowed.
As I cut across the grass to my front door, I decided that would be the last time I crashed any event. Ever.
I've missed you.
It's been too long since I've given you anything new to read. When I got pregnant last May, it honestly felt as though my brain was too jumbled to write anything at all. Then, I had babe in February, and it's taken me six months to get my thoughts together. It's been tough because I always had the drive to write, always had characters in my head... but for so long I couldn't translate that to anything that made sense.
So now, I'm a bit nervous to present my newest idea to you. I hope you enjoy Presley and Callan's journey. I'll warn you now. It's a slow burn, but I promise it'll be sweet, with a touch of heat, lots of character development, and a bit of humor.
Every review and comment means the world to me. I can't wait to hear what you think.