I DROPPED MY food on the counter of my kitchen and screamed in frustration. I hated him. I hated Cruz Kerrington. I hated him. Jerking open a cabinet, I got out a glass and filled it with ice water. His stupid grin in my head as he winked at Emmeline Kipling. She was what, nineteen? God, he was a pig.
If she let him near her she was stupid. Stupid like me. I groaned at the thought and opened my bag to get out the food that no longer looked appealing. There were other places I could have eaten today. Why did I have to go there? Why did I have to see that?
I sat down on one of the colorful barstools that had just arrived yesterday. This place was so industrial I had added all the color and art I could. I liked the way it was turning out. The stools were painted by an artist in town and each one had a different crazy artistic face painted on the back.
I stared at the crab claws in front of me as I forced one into my mouth. I had to eat. I’d been working downstairs all day and I was still a good month away from opening the place. I took a drink of my water and then looked over at my phone. I hadn’t talked to Eli in two weeks. He knew I had bought the place, but I’d been so busy getting moved in I hadn’t texted him.
I reached for my phone and decided to change that. We weren’t meant to be more than friends but I’d come to enjoy his friendship. We both loved people who didn’t love us. He understood.
Moved in. When are you coming to visit? then I pressed send.
Ophelia wasn’t moved in yet. Her room was almost completed. She’d gone to LA with Phoenix to visit their grandfather for a week. The place had been quiet. Just me and my dad along with some of his crew who had been working on the room the last few days.
When I’m invited. Was his reply.
I missed him. I missed the trustworthy guy who I could depend on to do what he said he was going to do. He was honest and didn’t do things that could hurt others. I wished that Eli had been the one to steal my heart. Seeing Cruz with someone else would be easier if he had.
You’re invited. Consider this your official invitation.
Texting him eased the ache I felt in my heart and I began to eat my food and enjoy it. If I could go back and not beg Cruz for the impossible that night on Bourbon Street, I would. I’d take it all back. Give up the memories. People that said they wouldn’t trade it even though it hurts were crazy. I would give it up in a heartbeat. I didn’t want to think about him.
I wanted to forget it all.
That gave me two days to get this place ready. I would make some plans for us and then enjoy myself. I wouldn’t think about Cruz. I wouldn’t care what or who he was doing. I would live my life.
I laughed at that last text and finished eating.
Things were turning out different than I had imagined but they weren’t bad. Not at all. I was excited. Soon I’d own a dance studio. I’d get to teach kids. I’d encourage them to find their love of dance the way I had.
I cleaned up my meal and went downstairs to get back to painting the walls. Dad had offered to do it, but I wanted to know I had done something. This was my place. I liked having my hand in getting it ready to move in.
When I walked in the door, Cruz was standing there looking around. His hands were in his jeans pockets, a look I couldn’t quite read on his face. I thought about turning around and running back upstairs but I wasn’t twelve. I was an adult and this was my studio.
His gaze swung to me. He hadn’t heard me come in. “Hey.”
I didn’t respond to that. I just continued silently stare at him.
“About what you saw,” he began and I held up a hand to stop him.
“Don’t. Please don’t come in here and act like you have to explain anything to me. I think I made myself clear at your house. We had closure. It’s done. I have painting to do. If you’ll excuse me.” I walked over to the paint and roller I had left earlier hoping he’d just turn and leave.
“If you’ve got your fucking closure why did your eyes look so damn hurt? Tell me that, Lila. Tell me why those eyes of yours took my goddamn breath away? Because it sure as hell wasn’t fucking closure I saw in them.”
I paused and took a deep breath. He was right. But I wasn’t going to admit it. “Still just fresh. I’ll be over it soon enough.”
“When you figure out how to get over it could you fucking tell me how? Because God knows I need help myself.”
I couldn’t let him get to me. I couldn’t let his words make me weak or think I could ever trust him. That we could ever have anything.
“You were doing just fine,” I shot back bending to get the roller and take the top off the paint can.
“Lila, look at me. Jesus, just fucking look at me. Tell me if this looks like a guy who is over it? You saw me flirt. I have been flirting since I was old enough to walk. It means nothing. It’s just how I react to women who are flirting with me.”
I laughed then shook my head. “Whatever. I do not care. Just go.”
He stood there. Not speaking and not moving. I tried to focus on my painting, but it was hard with his eyes watching me. I waited for him to say something more. If he’d just leave this would eventually go away. All of it. I’d gotten a taste. Knew what it felt like and was ready to put it behind me.
“If you didn’t care then we could sit down, chat, have a beer. We can’t do that, Lila. So yes, you care.”
He was right. I hated him being right. If I didn’t care there would be no emotion. I’d be fine with a visit. I wouldn’t be demanding he leave. I dropped my hands to my side and turned back to face him.
“You’re right. I care. But I want to not care. I want to forget it all happened. I want to forget you.” The words although they were true sounded much colder and harsher when said aloud. I almost retracted them but I stopped myself. He’d hurt me. If that hurt him then good.
“I don’t want to forget,” his voice was deep and almost pained. I started to say something to smooth it over but he did as I asked then. He turned and left. After the door closed behind him, the place was once silent again. And I was alone once again.
THE SMELL OF fresh paint met me as I walked into the building that would be Lila’s dance studio. It was a pale shade of blue, and the unpainted ceiling would soon look like the morning sky. She had told me about an artist she had coming in to paint it. There was still a lot to be done, but I was happy for her. She was so excited when she talked about her plans. I listened to her for over an hour last night. When she’d realized how long she’d been talking to me about it, she’d apologized. It had been cute.
Not one time in my life had someone made me forget Bliss. There was always an ache in my chest when I thought of her. Until now. That was gone. I knew why. Lila had become important to me. She had been so damn adorable that I couldn’t think about anyone else. Bliss was what she should have always been to me now—a friend. A very good friend who I cared about but I could honestly say I was no longer in love with my best friend. I was happy Bliss had found Nate and that her life was full of joy.
I pulled my duffle bag up over my shoulder and headed across the large room toward the one door in the back. She had said to take that door and head straight up the stairs. Tonight she was cooking for the first time in her kitchen and she hadn’t wanted to leave the food unattended, so she’d left the doors unlocked for me.