This was, by all accounts and purposes, the worst party I’d ever been to. The thumping bass had me itching to leave. To make matters worse, the obscure music wasn’t even good. It was obviously someone’s egotistical idea of appearing superior and exclusive. The masses of sweaty people—their arms sticking to mine, causing me to dry heave—was just about the last straw. I clawed my way through the crowd, anxious for some fresh air. After a few deliberate shoves and pushes, I finally made my way to the front porch, where the brisk air cooled my warm body. Sighing with relief, I sat down in one of the flimsy, plastic chairs.
Why did I even agree to come tonight? Watching him with her… it was revolting. Then again, I certainly had no right to be angry or possessive. He wasn’t mine. He’d never been mine. I’d been in love with Dan Walling since the moment I saw him. His first words to me were, “Do you have an extra pen that I could borrow?” Yeah… not the most romantic line there ever was. His voice was velvety and kind; his shaggy hair was the golden ticket into my eighteen-year-old heart. I fell head over heels in that English 101 class. Little did I know, he had a girlfriend. Of course she happened to be the gorgeous, bronze-skinned Evianna Halle, who was so delightful that I couldn’t help but fall in love with her too.
Five years, three jobs, and fifteen million barrels of whiskey later, here I was, sitting on the front porch of what felt like the world’s worst frat party, watching the man I wanted love another another woman. I swirled my Jack and brushed my sweaty hair off of my forehead before taking a generous sip. And then another. When I was finished with the plastic cup, I set it down and leaned back as far as the rickety chair would allow. Just as I propped my feet up on the porch railing, the front door opened and quickly shut.
“Nice shoes,” a husky voice said from behind me. I rotated my crossed red-converse-clad feet playfully, not even bothering to look over as the voice sat in the chair next to me. My head felt heavy as I lolled it to the side, studying the man who looked just as resigned as I felt. He was tall with shaggy, dirty-blonde hair. His long legs hung off the chair casually, and I noticed his revolting Birkenstocks above all else, rolling my eyes in the dark. God, Seattle was the worst sometimes. The lighting didn’t allow for me to study the details, but he had a round face and a chiseled jaw. He clutched a beer in his hands, sighing loudly as his eyes met mine in the darkness. Or at least I think they did. It was hard to tell.
“I take it you’re avoiding someone, too,” he added slowly. I felt his eyes rove over my mini skirt and slinky tank top. It was meant for someone else, but I liked the attention nonetheless.
“I’m actually avoiding two people,” I clarified, smiling slightly. What the hell. My legs and tongue were numb anyways, and I knew the word vomit would eventually make it’s way out. It always did when I drank whiskey. Telling this random stranger all about my problems felt surprisingly invigorating. “I happen to be in love with one of them,” I added, looking out into the empty, suburban street.
My porch neighbor blew out a heavy breath of air. “That’s rough.”
I flicked my eyes back to him. “Why are you out here?”
He chuckled, a low noise that reverberated in my spine. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness and his face became more visible, I thought that maybe in another life, I’d attempt to sleep with a man like him.
If only I weren’t pining for my friend’s boyfriend.
“I’m trying to avoid the woman I slept with last night,” he said quickly, as if saying it out loud might summon her.
I laughed. “Let me guess. You didn’t call her?”
He remained sitting in silent contemplation for a few seconds before answering. “I might’ve asked her to leave… immediately after we finished.”
I shook my head. “Men are pigs.” Another low chuckle. I craned my neck to get a better visual of the man whore sitting next to me, but the details of his face were hidden behind a shadow.
“Yes, we are,” he replied, sounding resigned. Sighing loudly, he threw his legs up onto the railing, next to mine. He’d taken his sandals off at some point and his bare feet both disgusted and intrigued me. “So tell me about this guy you’re lusting after,” he said finally. I heard him take a sip of his beer.
I closed my eyes and leaned my head back into the chair. “He’s my friend’s boyfriend. They’ve been together for longer than I’ve known him, and a small part of me thinks he may feel the same way.” It was true. There’d been times; small, captured moments, where I could’ve sworn Dan felt the same way. Quick, emotional glances, an accidental brush of fingers… So many times I wanted to act on it, but of course that would make me the world’s worst human being. “Last year, I accepted a job offer in Abu Dhabi just to get away, but even halfway across the world, I couldn’t stop thinking about him.” I opened my eyes and found the porch spinning. I’d definitely had too much to drink. “Do you think soulmates exist?” I asked the stranger, turning my head slowly as his eyes prowled my face in the dark. His eyes bore the same moodiness as mine, a melancholy gaze for a melancholy man. At least we had that in common. I couldn’t say the same for his poor choice in footwear.
“I think some people belong together, extenuating circumstances aside. For whatever reason, you and this guy haven’t had a chance to act on your destiny. I’m not saying you should go after him while he’s with someone else, but maybe in time, even if it’s a few years down the road, you could be together.”
I groaned. “I’m miserable,” I admitted. “I just wish… I wish I didn’t feel this way about him.”
“Be patient, my friend. Everything happens for a reason.”
I didn’t feel like waiting. Patience was not one of my virtues. But I had to. I had to wait. Though the whiskey swirling in my empty stomach was wearing away at my resolve. What if… what if I did tell him? “I’ve wanted to say something for so long. Not to break them up—never that—but to relieve some of the turmoil I feel on a daily basis.”
The man shrugged. “Personally, I would consider it a compliment. Even if I had a girlfriend, it’s always nice to hear that someone loves you.”
I studied him, placing a finger on my lips. “You think?”
The stranger nodded, and I got a glimpse of his five o’clock shadow and the forehead creases as he studied me. He was by far one of the most beautiful men I’d ever seen. If my heart weren’t with someone else…
“I suppose,” I answered finally, feeling flustered and resigned. I turned away. “You’re a bad influence,” I said as the fire of courage began to build in my gut. I could tell Dan. It would feel so good to put it out there, to relieve myself of my constant, daily struggle.
“I didn’t make your mind up for you. I just gave you the courage to try.”
I closed my eyes. Yes, I could tell him. I would tell him. Because as Birkenstock here says, and his word is obviously the word of all men, it might be nice for Dan to hear. It would flatter him. I’d be embarrassed, but maybe after I said something, I could finally move on.
I’d be free.
“No, you’re right,” I slurred, wishing I had more whiskey. “It’ll be therapeutic.”
I opened my eyes and watched Birkenstock take the last sip of his beer. I couldn’t see his face, but I could see his throat bob as he swallowed. Such a manly neck—thick and shaded in days-old scruff. It might be a nice neck to lick.
Fuck, I’ve had way too much to drink.
His eyes snapped to mine, and a pair of headlights flashed across the porch. For one, there are red plastic cups littering the place, and I hadn’t even noticed. Second, the man beside me was gorgeous. As in, he should have his own calendar gorgeous. Golden skin, hazel eyes, and lips that I already craved all over my body. Beyond that though, beyond the pretty face… I felt nothing. My heart was taken, against my will.
The second of illumination disappeared, and Birkenstock stood up, probably bored with our conversation. Instead of leaving, though, he walked over to my chair and knelt down. I lowered my legs, lest he get a glimpse of my red underwear. His presence knocked the breath out of me, and my mouth gaped open as he placed his large, warm palms on my bare thighs. I palpably jumped at the unexpected contact and stared into his gold and green eyes, unsure what to make of this. He started speaking before I had a chance to contemplate what was happening.
“You are way too beautiful to be moping around over some guy. In my opinion, he’s an idiot who doesn’t see what’s right in front of him.”
“Coming from the cork-sandal-wearing womanizer,” I muttered, crossing my arms. His face was right at chest level, so I was just protecting myself against his heated gaze. “Besides, he’s in love with someone else, you dunce. Didn’t you hear what I said? It’s different, because I can’t tell him without risking my friendship with Evi.”
Birkenstock’s eyes narrowed. “Evianna Halle?”
I nodded. “And anyways, if they weren’t together, I probably wouldn’t want him as bad as I do. I tend to want things I can’t have.” It was painful to admit, but true. “Do you know her?”
The man cleared his face of any unsettlement, giving me a warm smile. “Friend of a friend.”
I crumpled. “Shit. Please, please don’t tell her what I told you,” I begged, raising my hands to my face and looking at him between my fingers.
Instead of replying, he gripped my wrists and brought them down into my lap slowly, placing his calloused hands on top of mine. “I wouldn’t think of it,” he said quietly. He was watching me with careful concern.
I furrowed my brow. “Why are you being so nice?” I asked skeptically.
He shrugged, removing his hand and making to stand. His face held an oddly strange expression; sad and tense at the same time. “When I see a sad woman, it’s my instinct to make them feel better,” he said, standing and brushing the knees of his pants off. He walked back to his chair, slipped into his Birkenstocks, and grabbed his empty beer bottle. “A man who loves you will look at you like the sun; like it’s too bright, but he can’t stop looking.”
My mouth dropped open. “Wow. Are you a poet or something?” I asked, feeling my face flush.
He gave me a wan smile and turned, walking back to the front door. I panicked. “What’s your name?”
A bubble of laughter escaped my throat. “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to laugh. You just don’t hear that name very often.”
I heard Ignatius groan behind me. “Family name. Everyone calls me Nathan.”
And then the screen door slammed shut and I was once again left alone to my thoughts. Relaxing my body, I sighed and crossed my legs, wondering if my vision would ever stop spinning.
Whiskey. I needed more whiskey.
Standing quickly, I trekked into the house in search of some liquid courage. I would tell Dan Walling how I felt and then I would walk away. He would finally know, I wouldn’t be so burdened, and I might possibly move on with my life. Like a hissing steam engine, I needed to vent my frustrations and transfer my agony elsewhere. I made a bee-line to the kitchen, garnering several dirty looks as I shoved people out of the way. Tonight. It had to be tonight, or else I’d chicken out and perpetuate the cycle of misery. I found the Jack Daniels sitting on the counter, half full, and I poured a generous amount into a spare plastic cup. Gulping quickly, the fire in my throat soon subsided, and the more I drank, the more I believed my idea of telling Dan everything was a grand idea. I set the empty cup down.
Way too much whiskey. This was a bad idea and I knew it.
Wobbling slightly, I pushed my way through the crowd, searching for my friends. I finally found them canoodling against a wall in the living room. I had to swallow to keep the bile down.
I’m am awful person.
Evi saw me and reached out for me, pulling me into their personal circle. I could smell Dan but I didn’t dare look at him.
“Having fun?” Evi asked, smiling at me with pure goodheartedness. I was so envious of her goodness. It practically radiated off of her. I was her black-haired, pale-skinned frillain. Friend-villain. And I didn’t deserve her. Which I guess would make what I was about to confess to her boyfriend all the more easy.
“Yeah, you?” I asked, keeping my eyes away from Dan. I could feel his gaze, and my cheeks heated.
“Totally. Hey, are you okay?” she probed, reaching a hand out and grabbing mine. “You’re burning up.”
I nodded. Don’t look at Dan. Don’t look at Dan. “Just drank too much,” I mumbled, feeling the nausea get worse. Why did I drink so much? This was an incredibly stupid idea. Fuck Ignatius Birkenstock. I looked at Dan, and my heart broke into two. His brow was furrowed with worry. His brown hair was wild and sweaty from dancing, and he watched me with… with some kind of emotion I couldn’t pinpoint. Had I been right all this time? Did he feel the same way?
“Well, you look like you’re about to vomit. Dan, why don’t you escort her to the bathroom and make sure she’s okay?”
No. I almost said the word, but before I could protest, Dan grabbed my elbow and yanked me towards the bathroom. I looked over my shoulder at Evi, but she was already chatting up a spunky blond woman.
She had no idea.
I was deplorable.
“Jesus, Mia. How much did you drink?” His tone was authoritarian, and it made me gleeful.
“What do you care?” I said, feeling myself on the verge of tears. Don’t say it. Don’t admit a thing.
He dragged me into a bedroom down the hall. Not what I was expecting. Once the door was closed, he turned to me and took a step back. He was taller than me, but not by much. He had a broad torso and a tapered waist. Tonight, he was wearing a green flannel and jeans. His brown eyes searched mine.
“I do care, Mia. You’re my friend.”
Friend friend friend friend friend friend friend friend friend.
I snorted. “Yeah. Friend.” It was the only word that made sense to me. Everything else was hazy. Dan was my friend.
And yet… that worried look returned to his face. His dark eyes—always dark, always brooding—roved my face. Then, down my body. Slowly. So excruciatingly slowly. I physically shivered. He kept his distance, but his eyes began to undress me, one millisecond at a time. When they flicked up to my eyes, I saw the emotion play on his face again. Love. The softness of his eyes, the way he stood facing me, the way his arms dropped to his side as if in surrender. He watched me for seconds, licking his lips and looking very scared to be standing in front of me like this.
A man who loves you will look at you like the sun; like it’s too bright, but he can’t stop looking.
“I love you,” I blurted, covering my mouth with my hands the instant the words left my mouth. Well, there was no turning back now.
“I know,” he said slowly, taking a step forward. “This puts me in a difficult position, Mia,” he added, his voice low and gravely.
I nodded. “I just had to tell you. This is for me, not you. I’ve been in love with you since the day we met.”
There. I said it. And I felt so much delicious relief. Perhaps Birk Ig was right. Dan looked flattered. He had a small smile playing on his lips. Now my job was over, and I could walk out of this room and never worry about it again.
“I love Evi,” he said, obviously feeling torn.
“I know. You guys are… perfect together. I just wanted to tell you. I’m going to leave now.”
I turned and placed my hand on the door handle. Before I could turn it, I felt Dan come up right behind me. I could feel the heat of his body on my back, and I sagged. I gave in, leaning my head back into his chest.
No, no, no. This was not supposed to happen.
Just as I was about to object, his hand came around to my stomach as he pulled me into him tighter. So tight, I could feel his hardness.
Wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong.
“Dan,” I whispered, trembling.
“What Evi doesn’t know won’t hurt her.”
No. Not like this. I never wanted this.
His hand slid up to cup my breast, and I let out a soft moan. Yes. Just like this. So wrong, but why does it feel so right?
“I can’t hurt her,” I whisper, as his soft lips nip my ear.
“You won’t if you don’t tell her.”
I know he’s wrong. I have a sick, revolted-with-myself feeling in my stomach, but his hands, oh his hands…
He twists me around and places both hands beside my head. “I know you love me, Mia. Now we can both have our cake and eat it too.”
In my fucked up, miserable cow of a brain, I justify his words. Evi is wonderful. Too wonderful for people like us. We’re just the black dots tainting her brightness—two dark souls coiling around her. She deserved better. Dan and I? We were everything she had, and everything she didn’t need. Because of that, I can rationalize my next word to him.
“Okay,” I whisper.
I close my eyes. I feel his lips on mine, and the sound of his belt buckle. I wait for the elation to hit, the excitement. Instead, I feel like the most worthless pile of shit. Still, I let him take me against that door. Still, I pretend he’s not with Evi. Still, I convince myself that we’re meant to be together. After we’re done, he leaves quickly, muttering something about how awesome that was, and how he can’t wait to do it again sometime soon. Giving me a quick, satisfied smile, he closes the door behind him.
I vomit all over my shoes.