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Definitely, Maybe in Love: Part 3 – Chapter 25


“Mel said she’d be downstairs any second.”

“Yeah, right.” Tyler chuckled. We both knew it would be more like hours.

After returning from the kitchen, he sat on the couch and grabbed a Sports Illustrated, while I was cross-legged on the floor at the coffee table, attempting to skim a chapter in my Women of the Twentieth Century textbook.

Grueling.

I’d planned on napping on our two-hour drive back to Vancouver, but Henry’s little pit stop made that entirely impossible…

“I missed you,” he’d said the second Mel and Tyler were inside the mini-mart. A bit too preoccupied with his neck to notice, not until my feet hit the ground did I realize that Henry had actually picked me up in his arms, carried me out of the car and around to the back of the gas station.

We’d used every second of those five minutes: Henry backing me up and pinning my hands against the stucco building. Henry holding me still then running his mouth up and down my neck until my knees gave way. Henry intertwining his fingers with mine. Despite all the kissing that had gone on the night before, the simple, certain gesture of repositioning his grip so he could weave his fingers between mine felt hugely intimate.

“Time’s up,” he’d said into my hair, releasing me. But I’d made the scandalous decision to give us an extra ten seconds, by first pressing my palms against his chest, feeling his strong, pounding heart, then slowly sliding my arms around him. I lifted up on my toes, hooked my chin over his shoulder, then clasped my hands behind his back, sealing us together.

No lips, no tongues. We were hugging.

“Ahh, this is…very…” He exhaled a little moan when I’d squeezed tighter, making our bodies a single line. “Springer.” His breath hitched. “Now you’re making me purr—”

“Are we a tad sleepy this evening?”

My eyes popped open, suddenly realizing where my mind had been. Tyler was still across from me on the couch. I could practically hear the smirk in his voice.

“Maybe you and old Henry shouldn’t have stayed up all night, hmmm?”

“This is a boring subject,” I offered, tapping a yellow highlighter to my open textbook.

None of us would be getting much rest tonight either, because once Mel hauled her fashionable behind downstairs and Henry showed up, the four of us were heading to Portland to see a concert.

After reading the same sentence three times, I allowed my head to drop down on my book, resting on one cheek. If I had thirty seconds of quiet, I knew I would be out like a light.

“Sooo…” Tyler broke the silence again. I was amazed by how that single word was laced with so much insinuation. It was a strain to lift my head, but I managed. His big blue eyes twinkled, regarding me just as Henry had this morning. I wondered when it was that I’d become completely transparent.

“You and Henry, eh?”

My spine elongated indignantly. It was a natural reflex. “Me and Henry, what?”

“Hey now, I’m just shooting the breeze while we wait,” he defended. “I don’t like silence. But…you know what I meant.” He made slobbery kissing sounds.

I rolled my eyes. “Nothing happened between us.” But it was a ridiculous, useless attempt. If he was anything like his cousin, Tyler would see right through me.

I stared at the front door, fingers thumping impatiently under the table. I couldn’t wait to see him, couldn’t wait to hear the Jeep roaring up the driveway. If not for the overly interested eyes of Mel and Tyler, I imagined myself busting out the door the second I heard the grinding of gravel, maybe running and jumping into his arms like I’d seen in a chick flick.

Huh. I smiled to myself. And just like that, I’ve become a romantic. I blame Bruno Mars.

It felt much longer than five hours since Henry had left us at Mel’s to drive back to wherever he was staying this week. Had he mentioned a grandfather? And now, per his latest text, he was currently en route to the house. En route to me.

Butterflies.

I stared vacantly down at my textbook, trying to keep any kind of smile off my face, trying to not let every giddy, girly emotion show. When I looked up at Tyler, making sure my blank expression was firmly in place first, his smarmy grin had disappeared.

“Oh, I thought for sure.” He ran his fingers up the back of his baby blond hair. “Mel did tell me you guys were just talking last night, but I assumed…”

I had to bite my lip to keep from hooting out loud. Tyler actually bought that load?

“Just catching up. Like I said.” I confirmed my earlier fib. “Henry and I lived across the street from each other at Stanford, remember? And we worked on a paper together.”

Tyler nodded, fully convinced. “That’s cool,” he said. “For you, at least.”

“What do you mean?”

“You seem like a nice girl, and you’re Mel’s best friend.”

“So?”

He took a long swig of soda, like he was preparing to tell a lengthy story. “I didn’t think Henry hooked up with chicks, all casual like that.” He wiped his mouth with the back of a hand. “Well, he usually doesn’t.”

“Usually?”

He set down the soda can and linked his fingers between his knees. “Okay, so there was this one time, the beginning of last summer, right? Just after he graduated from Duke, Henry was about to go off to Sweden or wherever with his family.” He looked over his shoulder then back at me. “He called it filling his canteen. Ha-ha! I guess he figured he’d be away from American women for a while. So, anyway”—he leaned forward, his elbows on his knees—“right before he left, he hooked up for the weekend, just because he knew he wouldn’t be getting any all summer.” Tyler sat back and crossed his legs.

“Hooked up,” I repeated, not quite certain what he meant. I knew the term, of course, but I also knew its ambiguous definition. I waited for further explanation, also wondering if Tyler’s face was about to break into that stupid grin and he’d say he was yanking my chain.

But he went on. No stupid grin.

“Yeah,” he said, smiling approvingly. “Ya know, tapped that thing.”

“Oh,” I said, perfectly understanding him now. I leaned an elbow on the coffee table, feeling envious and a little jealous of some unknown girl, just because she had been with Henry first. I looked down and couldn’t help smiling, confident in the knowledge that our time would come soon enough. And I could wait.

“I think she was the sister of one of his buddies at Duke,” Tyler continued, pulling me from my daydream. “Oh, yeah!” He smacked his own forehead. “She was his roommate’s sister. Guess she was visiting her brother back east, and Henry took the easy in.”

Those happy little butterflies in my stomach flew up my throat and out my open mouth.

“It’s kind of a mess now for him,” Tyler added, lowering his voice like we were sharing a secret. “This chick won’t leave him alone. She’s at Stanford, too, I guess. You might know her.”

The yellow highlighter I’d been gripping slipped from my hand and rolled under the coffee table. “It’s a big school,” I deflected, while picturing the girl in my head. Her straight, bleached out hair, her angular features, and that scowl of loathing whenever she looked at me.

I fought the urge to run the back of my hand over my lips, rubbing off Henry’s kisses.

“I don’t know about you Stanford girls, anyway…” Tyler went on, but I turned away, focusing first at the landscape painting past his shoulder, then down at my open book, the words on the page whirling around. I took in a long breath, held it, blew it out, reeling in my disgust.

Of course it wasn’t fair of me to be pissed at Tyler; he was only the messenger. And to be angry with Henry over this wasn’t exactly fair and impartial, either. What he did before we met had nothing to do with me.

But the thought of Henry and Lilah together did show an amazingly low—and I’m sorry, desperate—lack of taste and judgment on Henry’s part. From out of nowhere, I felt on the brink of laughter, considering all the years she must have pined for him. No wonder her hatred for me reached new levels last fall. On top of my beating her out for the internship two years ago, the girl was actually jealous.

Tyler was talking again, still droning on about the women at Stanford. I couldn’t help wondering if he and Mel had had a fight earlier, if that was why he was suddenly so bitter toward the female population of Palo Alto.

“Over the holidays,” he continued, “I was with Henry for, like, one day. I was kind of asking him advice about Mel.” He shot me a look. “He didn’t know who I was talking about, though.”

I laughed. “I’m sure your secret is safe.”

“Mel and I are pretty off-and-on, you know? I was frustrated at the time and not sure what to do. Anyway, Henry told me about this other girl he knows, same kind of thing, I guess. She was dating one of his friends. She…” I was only half-listening, staring down at the table, noticing the subtle marbley veins in the wood, different levels of brown and black, reminding me of Henry’s hair. “She started blowing hot and cold, like, mind games, hard to get and whatever,” he went on. “Henry told his friend flat-out to break up with her.”

A sudden coldness wrapped around my core. “What do you mean, he told him to?”

Tyler smiled. Perhaps he and Mel did have something in common: a love of gossip.

“I don’t know all the details.” His voice was hushed yet excited. “But from what I figure, Henry had to practically convince this guy, this buddy of his, to dump her.”

Whatever creature had lurched in my stomach five seconds ago, it was now doing back flips while wearing spiky shoes and a spiky helmet. “When”—I swallowed, trying to feign indifference—“was this?”

Tyler thought for a minute, fingering his chin. “Recently. End of last semester.” He scooted over, closer to me. Something in my expression encouraged him to continue without me questioning further. “So, like, he didn’t break them up literally, he just convinced his buddy to dump her. Hilarious, right? I mean, who has the rocks to do that? Only Trip. Classic.”

My gaze slid from his face, my vision once more taken over by images of Henry. But this time, the picture included Julia crying on the floor of our kitchen because the guy she loved had disappeared. My vision expanded to show Knightly standing over her, wearing a haughty smile.

“Seemed pretty proud of himself, too,” Tyler added.

“He said that?” I blurted. “Henry actually said that?”

“Well, like I said, I don’t know the whole story, but… Hey, you were his neighbor. Did you know the chick he dumped? I take it she was a hick.” He wrinkled his nose. “Small town. No money.”

I knew my face was flushing, heat and fury rolling up from my chest. “Your cousin should learn to mind his own damn business.”

Tyler threw his head back and burst out laughing. “I would love to hear you tell him that. Yeah, that’d be really hilarious.”

I saw red as I stared at him, and knew I was about to spring from the floor and cause real damage if he kept talking. It was only a matter of time.

“Anyway.” Tyler finally stopped hooting. “His buddy’s totally free and I’m sure his sweet little ex found herself a new”—he cocked an eyebrow—“stud.”

Instead of going all Karate Kid on his ass, I found I had no strength. I dropped my face in my hands, my cheeks and eyelids so hot I was sure my temperature had spiked over a hundred.

“Hey,” Tyler said, “you okay?”

“Migraine,” I murmured through my hands. “Agony.” I stumbled to my feet, pain impeding my vision. I reached for my textbook but only bumped its corner. It fell to the floor and I didn’t bother picking it up. “I’m not going tonight.” I moved toward the stairs. “I’ll tell Mel.”

“What about Henry?”

I whipped around, using the last of my strength. “Tell him to go frack himself.”

Not having the presence of mind to remember that Julia was home in Florida for the week, I called our house first. No answer. After the second time I got voice mail on her cell, I left a message.

“Julia?” I spoke after the tone. “Julia, I’m sorry…sorry I haven’t returned your calls this week. I’ve been…busy. I’m sorry.” I rubbed the heel of my hand over my throbbing forehead as I paced around the four-poster bed. Even the faint light from the late afternoon’s overcast was killing my eyes. “There’s so much I need to tell you, bunny. I’m just…so sorry.”

Of course she would not understand why I was frantically apologizing, but betrayal to a friend, even unintentionally, wasn’t something one could blurt out over the phone. When I didn’t know what else to say, I ended the call.

All the while, Mel was banging at the bedroom door. “Spring? Springer? What do you mean you’re not coming?”

I tossed my cell on the bed, and mumbled something through the door about not feeling well.

“Will you be okay?”

I would.

“Do you want me to stay home with you?”

I did not.

“Well, all right,” she quietly said. “Grams won’t be home until tonight. Will you be okay alone?”

I assured her that I would.

From the window, I heard the faint hum of a motorcycle down below, drawing closer to the house. Two tires on the gravel driveway. Thirty seconds later, Mel’s voice was in the living room. Then Knightly’s. The sound was nails on a chalkboard that I couldn’t drown out. I glanced at the doorknob where my backpack had been hanging earlier with my ear buds inside. I sighed, realizing they were both downstairs. So I sat on the edge of the bed and, to block out that excruciating voice from below, I pressed my hands over my ears.

A few minutes later, I felt the vibration of the front door shutting. I waited, lowering my hands just in time to hear the sound of a car driving away.

They were gone.

I picked up my cell, trying Julia again. Still no answer. I held my hands over my chest, feeling hot and tense, my heart pounding too hard. I tried to breathe but couldn’t seem to take in more than tiny puffs of air. Everything hurt.

I felt like a traitor—to Julia, to myself, to everything I believed in. Even though I’d unknowingly been fraternizing with the enemy, I couldn’t stop the guilt. To block out that feeling, I concentrated on the anger, the betrayal. The only solace was that it had only been kissing.

Yes, despite what I’d wanted to happen, I’d only kissed him. And it meant nothing. He meant nothing.

Weakness and gravity pushed me onto the pillows, but that made my head throb more fiercely, so I rolled to my side and slid off the bed.

With all the lights off, the living room was murky. Shadows and bits of late afternoon sun broke though the overcast, painting shapes and curves on the eastern wall. At the foot of the stairs I stopped, glancing around the room. My backpack was sitting by the coffee table, the textbook and highlighter I’d dropped lying neatly on top.

Still standing on the last stair, I remembered there was also a bottle of aspirin in my bag, but I couldn’t seem to get my feet to move me in that direction. Instead, I stepped forward to the wall by the front door, leaned against it, and slid to the floor, my knees bending in front of my chest.

I shut my eyes, but my brain inside spun so fast I couldn’t focus, so I stayed curled in a ball. Less than a minute later, a noise startled me conscious.

I lifted my chin in time to see the front door next to me creak open.


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