© Pamela Ann Author Inc. 2016
This draft is not finalized and is subjected to change
“Jackson!” I gleefully exclaimed the moment I saw my brother coming toward where I stood next to the revolving luggage carousel.
It didn’t take him long to reach me then give me the tightest, warmest embrace. Upon releasing me, he immediately scrutinized me from head to foot.
“You’ve lost hella weight. Are you on one of those weird diets girls are into these days, Chloe?” he asked as he grinned down at me.
As much as I loved him, he sure knew what subjects to press to embarrass me. There was no need to point out I had been such a fat lard before. And there was no escaping my past; my brother would make sure of it.
I had once been a fat kid turned chunky during my teenage years. It was during my heartbreak when I began to start shredding pounds, and I had successfully maintained the weight by eating proportionally and skipping sodas of any kind. Now, here I was, the best I had ever looked to date, and no one was going to undermine my newly minted confidence.
“If you call denouncing donuts and chocolate cakes six times a week a diet, then yes, I’m on one of those freaking weird diets.”
Stuffing myself with desserts after I’d had my heartbroken—no, scratch that; I’d had my heart trampled, and it had made me feel a thousand times worse. I knew it was time to shift things, even if it led me to sacrifice one of my fave hobbies, which was aptly named binging.
“No!” he gasped, his eyes wide. “You didn’t, did you? But you lived for that junk, Chloe. What happened?” He truly seemed perplexed and beyond concerned that I would take on such abhorrent behavior.
“Boys happened, Jacks.”
“Well, I’ll be damned. I’m sorry to hear that, but as long as you’re happy, then I’m happy, too.”
He used to surprise me with a present from the local pastry shop in our hometown of Newport Beach whenever he wanted a favor or after we bickered. It didn’t matter how much I stood my ground. The second I got a whiff of that sensational and oh so familiar sweet scent, my armor would slowly deteriorate, and I would accept his apology. It was some sort of tradition of ours, so I kind of understood his stunned reaction.
Everyone who knew me understood the depth of the love affair I had with desserts. Mind you, it was desserts—not appetizers, not entrees, but desserts with an S. Anything sweet and delicious should come in plurals because one should be able to truly satisfy and indulge their inner most cravings.
Our conversation easily flowed from the traffic to the people back home as he helped me with my luggage before we exited the area and chose one of the cabs to take us to the city. This wasn’t my first time here, I’d been coming here for short trips at a young age so I wasn’t all that interested in the sights.
While Jackson busied himself with his ever beeping messages, my thoughts reverted back to him, like always. A part of me was glad Jackson hadn’t brought him up, not that I had been expecting him to. I just had this odd inkling that Drew and I might not get on well as roommates or as friends. I wasn’t expecting much on that front, which was totally fine by me.
Drew and I weren’t particularly close, but through the years, we had bonded somehow. It was inevitable when he was not only best friends with my brother, but also our neighbor. Here was to hoping we would find a common ground without disrespecting each other.
Briefly glancing toward my brother, I wondered whom he was talking to since his phone was endlessly shrilling. It wouldn’t surprise me if it was a woman who was borderline obsessed with him. All throughout his high school years, I had seen him engage and fend off more women than I could imagine. The same had gone for Drew. I doubted their habits had changed much.
I remembered them telling me, though jokingly, that they would never commit to anyone before they were past the age of twenty-five. They’d stated they wanted to live to the fullest without any shackles or restraints. It was a wise decision since those two weren’t the monogamous type of guys.
Our parents had purchased a three-bedroom condo a year before Jackson had been due to leave for the east coast. My parents, particularly my father, wouldn’t allow us to study anywhere else except the school where his family strictly went to. He wasn’t a totalitarian per say. Apart from that the college we would attend, he was pretty lax as far as parenting went.
“Drew’s still sleeping, so I didn’t bother waking him up. We had a party last night, so the place isn’t all that squeaky clean. Well, it’s a little trashed, but your room is the cleanest area. I was strict in enforcing a rule that no one uses that bedroom.” Jackson spoke as he typed on his screen, not bothering to glance at me. “Sounds great.”
Why didn’t this surprise me? Still, the moment I heard his name, I couldn’t help imagining what sort of party they’d had last night. Well, knowing what type of women they usually went for, I didn’t have to guess that hard. Of course the apartment would be a party den. With those two, it was a given. How the hell would I survive if they decided to party daily? They had better not. I wasn’t a snitch, but I would seriously consider telling our parents if they decided to selfishly torture me with loud music, marijuana stench, endless litter, puke galore, and all that entailed. I had seen how trashed their parties could get; therefore, I better set some decent ground rules when I saw them both.
The condo was located in Midtown, so it would be an easy cab ride to school and the rest of Manhattan. It didn’t take long for the driver to deliver us right outside the glass building. With Jackson in charge of my luggage, we casually strolled in, and then he introduced me to the doorman named Norman. After the introduction, we strode headed into the elevator then up to the eighth floor.
This was my second time in this place. I hoped I got to keep the same bedroom I had stayed in the first time I was here, which was right after it was purchased. Although all the rooms had floor-to-ceiling windows that overlooked the city below, the room I had chosen directly overlooked a small, family run bakery that had this old man with a protruding stomach who sang “O Mio Babbino Caro” at exactly six in the morning without fail. I wasn’t sure why I’d used to set the alarm on my phone at that particular time just to check if he were going to sing, but it had become an odd habit of mine. Maybe it was the passion I’d heard in his voice and the depth of sadness that caused me to tune in to him every day that summer. Whatever it was, I knew hearing it would bring some familiarity and a sense of comfort given that I was far from home and the safety of the town I had grown up in.
“Here it is. Home sweet home, sis,” Jackson stated just as the elevator dinged, indicating that we had arrived at our floor.
Stepping out on the superbly polished black marble floor, I held my breath as I followed his lead, turning left then stopping once we reached the place. Then he pulled out the keys from his jean pocket and unlocked the door. We were greeted by the brightness of the room, skyscrapers, and littered red cups everywhere with several empty bottles of vodka accompanying them. And with three matching leather modern sofas strategically situated in the middle of the living room, it made me wonder what my mom had been thinking to choose white as the main theme, knowing her son would most likely thrash it, anyway.
“I’m in the master bedroom, but I’m willing to give it up if you don’t feel like sleeping in the bedroom you used before.”
That’s nice of him to offer, I thought as I smiled at my brother. “Thanks, Jacks. I’ll keep that in mind.” I didn’t want to necessarily decline his generosity just yet.
Just like the rest of my kind, I tended to be fickle, so it was best to play it safe given that my bedroom was conveniently right across the hallway from his while the master was situated on the opposite end, far from the kitchen and this section.
Just as I was about to turn toward my room to change and what not, the opposing door opened, and out came Drew Cavendish, freshly showered with nothing but boxer briefs on.
Jesus, what a holy package, batman!
Not only was I trying not to hyperventilate, but my capacity to think when I was under prepared for such encounters, naked or otherwise, left me non-functional.
“Chloe’s here; you can’t walk around in your jockeys, yo. What the fuck, man?”
“I forgot she was arriving,” I heard him say in a raspy voice.
Upon hearing him, I was immediately reminded of how much I used to love his voice and how much it used to turn me into a lovesick teen who saw him as the master of my universe. But in his eyes, I was easily forgettable. No surprise there.
Not bothering to meet his eyes, I poised myself to glance toward my brother who had just situated my things inside my bedroom.
“Why don’t you change and rest a bit? I have to do something really quick. I’ll be back to take you out to dinner. How does that sound?” Jackson asked before reverting his attention to the beeping sound of his phone that was pressing for his undivided attention.
Before I had the chance to object that I wasn’t ready to be alone with a half-naked man in the apartment, he was already out the door.
Fuck. Way to go, Jacks! Now what? I could keep ignoring him; that would be a start.
Refraining from sighing, I strode toward the door, intending to shut it, but the insufferable man made it his mission that I memorize the ridges of his six-pack and the impressive size of his whatchamacallit.
“That’s probably due to Yvonne; she’s a persistent one.”
“Good to know. Thanks,” I muttered as nonchalantly as I could before I busied myself with my things. Call it immature, but I was too startled and wound up about the unspoken past to pay mind to small talk.
My instincts told me that he was still hovering close to the door, although I kept praying he would leave me alone. He hadn’t had any qualms about doing it in the past, so why bother this time?
“How have you been?” he casually drawled, as if we were buddy-buddies.
He was obviously too dense to realize I wasn’t up for chitchat. Since we were going to be sharing this place for quite a long time, however, I knew better than to start something that would make the situation twice as uncomfortable as it already was.
“Things are … as expected,” I finally said as I opened my luggage and blankly stared at the contents.
My body was too hyped, too aware of him to fully function as normal. It was irritating to see myself in such a position after what he had done to me. I had been here not even half an hour, and I was more affected than I should be. Life wasn’t fucking fair.
“Well, good to see you again, Chloe.”
I hardly doubted it, but I knew better than to say it out loud.
“It’s good to see you, too.” I held my breath as I waited for him to move out of my room, but that hope was dashed when it became apparent he wanted to prolong this encounter.
“You sure don’t look it. Is lying part of this new package, too, Chloe?”
His voice was so filled with unmistaken sarcasm that I spun quickly to face him and became dizzy for a second.
“What package?” I quipped back, meeting his blue eyes for the first time in so long.
The moment our gazes clashed, my stomach dropped before I felt butterflies break out, leaving me agitated, angry, and frustrated all at the same time.
“This …” He used his eyes to point out my body, perusing it with such agonizing intensity that it burned my skin, making me feel exposed, unarmed, vulnerable. “You were perfect the way you were.”
Those are just empty words. He doesn’t mean any of them.
Not enough, apparently, or I would have heard from him, but not a single word. He had left me as though that night had meant so little to him. He wouldn’t know what his actions had done to me, though. Like him, I very much preferred to forget it happened at all.
The art of pretention would take time to hone and perfect, but I would get there, even if it killed me.
“This is the new me, so take it or leave it. You’d be surprised to find out I won’t care either way.” Amber meeting his blue, I challenged him in ways he hadn’t seen coming. Gone was the girl who’d worshipped at his feet. I wasn’t sure what I was yet, but I damn well knew I wasn’t going back to that pathetic sap of an idiot I once was.
“And you haven’t.”
I didn’t realize we weren’t alone until I heard someone clear their throat, immediately getting both our attention.
Glancing past Drew’s shoulder, I watched as a tall, svelte woman eyed us with curiosity before diverting her attention to Drew, freezing me out as if I weren’t even there.
“I’ve got to dash. I have a shoot in an hour, but we’re still on for tonight, right?” she asked.
“We are,” he calmly replied, unmoving from his position.
A cat-like smile crossed her face. “Just double-checking,” she murmured before leaning over to kiss him on the cheek. Then she strutted down the hallway and out the door.
Right, I thought as I realized what that was. Obviously, she had spent the night here—that was why he was in his undressed state, doing God knew what before he had come out to greet me.
It was infuriating, and I wasn’t sure why I was feeling the way I was, but somehow, I felt insulted. It was as good as a slap to the face. The fact that the woman was beyond gorgeous didn’t help much at all or the fact that she had openly dismissed me as if I weren’t worthy of her attention, which wasn’t a surprising attitude when it came to women these days. Whatever.
Back home, he had been into cheerleaders. He now had upgraded to models, it seemed. If that didn’t state how particular he was with the kind of women he dated, well, ponder no more. There was the answer.
“That was totes awkward,” I commented before taking tedious steps toward the door and grabbing the handle, a hella sure sign that I wasn’t up for company. Regardless, he remained still, silent, as if he were in the throes of deep thinking. “Drew?” I raised my brow, hoping he would get the blatant message that he was the last person I preferred to be around. Call me bitter, but I needed to regroup. STAT.
“Chloe …” he murmured, gazing at me with those eyes that devoured me alive. It was one of those rare moments when he used all of their power, their intensity to capture me, leaving my mind muddled, my body in feverish excitement, and my heart in serious overdrive.
This is a trap. Think, brain, fucking think. I wasn’t in panic mode, although I was near to it. He was just too close for comfort, too naked, too everything for me to sanely handle him without hyperventilating. I felt like a deer caught with the headlights as he zoned in on me with his eyes before his body followed suit. He was a hairsbreadth away, and when his male scent hit my nostrils, I almost groaned in protest.
“Only if you promise to play nice.” Those eyes exclusively focused on my lips as if he were about to kiss me.
My body was a lost cause, but my mind hadn’t given up yet. “Don’t you fucking dare. Don’t even fucking think it!”
“Funny how these things work. Not so long ago, you welcome it without protest.” He was relentless, rattling me further.
I gave a mocking laugh. “Funny, isn’t it? I’m sure, with the hoard of women you’ve had daily, they all sound and feel the same to you.”
His breathing became ragged, holding me captive as he tried to rein himself in. “You’re the only virgin I’ve had, Chloe. Trust me, you felt different than the rest.”
“Ah, at one point, I was wondering if I had imagined all of that, because you vanished into thin air. You fucking left without saying anything. So, no, you don’t get to do any of this shit. You have no right.” The sarcasm couldn’t quell the bitterness I tried to hide away from his knowing eyes.
“Someday, you’ll thank me for that.”
He would never know how much his rejection had affected me. It had changed me forever.
“Somehow, I doubt that.”
His closeness, his warmth, and the familiar scent of him that used to drive me wild with lust and everything else… I knew I had to compromise somewhere in this, whatever this was, before it spiraled out of control. That was the last thing I needed at the moment.
“This is going to get really uncomfortable if we carry on this way, so I’m offering to start over. Let’s forget that night and pretend none of it happened. It was nothing. It meant nothing. So let’s not make this into something it wasn’t, all right?”
“You’re right,” he murmured as he slowly raised his eyes to meet my troubled ones.
Words that couldn’t be spoken out loud conveyed the ghost of our past. And that was where it should belong—in the past. We were now in the present. No point in turning back the time. No sorry or any form of apologies were spoken. Silently, we understood each other.
When he finally moved his intense, possessive eyes away from me, his body followed suit, quietly leaving me in the room as he shut the door behind him.
It’s over. I should breathe easy now. But even though I tried to reassure myself, the last thing I felt was calm and collected. The potent connection I’d had with him seemed as though it had unintentionally drained my soul, giving me the urge to cry.
How did one forget there was someone out there who had the power to unman one’s heart, one’s soul by merely looking at you?