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Authors: Barbie Bohrman

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BOOK: Something More Than This
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“Well, I was wondering if you’d like to get together tonight. Maybe grab a bite to eat? If you’re not busy or anything. If you can’t make it, then—”

“I’m free,” I quickly say and keep my eyes trained to the table. I can feel Dylan’s heavy stare and realize that I shouldn’t have taken a personal call in front of him as my boss. Even if we’re friends, it’s not professional. Then again, asking my boss if he’s dating the office hottie isn’t that professional either. But that’s how we talk to each other. Always have.

Then why do I feel like a jerk for speaking to Conner in front of him? I know I shouldn’t, but I do. What bugs me most about this is the fact that I can tell he senses it too. But if I know Dylan well enough, which of course I do, he won’t bring it up. He’ll go back to the usual best friend I’ve known for years. And then slip into boss role again while at the office . . . everything back to normal. Business as usual.

“Katy, are you still there?” Conner asks in my ear.

“Yes, I’m still here, sorry,” I say in an embarrassed rush and pull my gaze away from Dylan. “Text me when and where and I’ll meet you there.”

“Sounds good. I’ll see you later, Katy.”

We say our good-byes and I put the phone on silent immediately afterward. Then, tucking it away into my bag, I say as if it wasn’t obvious already, “That was Conner.”

“Yeah, I could see that,” Dylan says. “So I guess if you’re making plans again, it went well over the weekend.”

It registers then that Dylan thinks there is something between Conner and me. “Oh no, we’re not old friends like
that
. We were best friends since we were kids. I haven’t seen him in years, so we’re just reconnecting until he goes back home to California.”

“Then why did your face light up like the Fourth of July when he asked to meet you tonight?”

Did it?

It’s possible, seeing as we are talking about Conner. But I don’t think so. If anything, I felt very uncomfortable talking to Conner in front of Dylan. Which shouldn’t happen, given our history. Actually, given both our histories, we should be able to talk about anything.

Jeez, at this rate, I’ll be back at Jonathan’s balcony sooner than later.

I try blowing it off like it’s nothing. “I think you’re imagining things.”

“Fine, if you say so.”

I do. I say so.

At least that’s what I keep telling myself, hoping that it’s nothing more than two friends catching up on old times.

We both go back to eating our lunches and return to talking shop. When we head back to the office, he goes his way and I go mine. I spend the rest of the day working on my article, and when Conner does text me the time and place eventually, I’m lucky Dylan is nowhere around to point out the ear-splitting grin that explodes across my face.

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

W
hen I arrive at Bayview Park at six forty-five, I’m almost dripping in sweat. That’s because after I received Conner’s text to meet him at the park where we first met, I had just enough time to run home, change into some shorts and a run-of-the-mill T-shirt and sneakers, then run right back out and get here with fifteen minutes to spare.

I haven’t been here in a while, so after parking my car by the tennis courts, I take the extra time while looking for Conner to appreciate it all. I walk the path that cuts around to the basketball court and then out to the open field that leads to the baseball diamond. I smile to myself when I turn around and head toward the playground, which is hidden from view since trees surround it now.

When I was a kid, most of those trees didn’t exist, and I could see straight from the bottom of the slide across the field and then some. That’s how my brothers were always able to keep an eye on me from pretty much wherever they were in the park at any given time.

It’s also where I asked Conner to meet me one night nine or so years ago to give him the letter that I had poured all of my heart into. And it crosses my mind why he would pick to meet me here of all places. Actually, the thought has been in the forefront of my mind since he texted me this afternoon.

Just when I reach the now beautifully redone, brightly colored playground area, my phone vibrates in my back pocket.

I pull it out and see Dylan’s text.

 

What was the nickname of Miami’s first major league pro football team?

 

I text back with a huge smile, because this one is way too easy and I almost feel like my intelligence is being insulted.

 

Miami Seahawks

 

He texts me back within seconds:

 

We need to put you up against The Schwab, because this is ridiculous.

 

Laughing out loud at his text, that I could possibly even compete with Howie Schwab—sports trivia genius extraordinaire—has me so distracted that I barely hear Conner call out to me.

“Katy! Over here!”

I look around until I find him. He’s off to the right side of the playground, underneath the spotty trees that cover a couple of picnic tables. I walk over, feeling very self-conscious all of a sudden about the fact that he keeps his eyes on me the whole length of the way.

When I reach the clearing, I finally notice that behind him, on the picnic table he’s perched on, is a whole spread of food, carefully packaged. If I had to guess, not by Conner, but by someone in the gourmet food business, since it’s done with beautiful cellophane wrapping and ribbons.

“Wow, Conner! This looks amazing!”

“So you’re impressed, right?”

“Yes, very.” I step a little closer to and say, “All of this is for me?”

“Shadow, if you can eat all of this food, I’ll be the one who’s impressed.”

Amused at the prospect of getting to taste all of this stuff, I reach across the table and try to peek inside one of the wrapped dishes. Conner reaches out and lightly smacks the back of my hand.

“Not yet,” he says. Standing up, he goes to fish around in a big bag off to the side of the picnic table. He comes out with a football. Throwing it up once and catching it in his hands, he says, “You’ve got to earn it. Are you ready? Do you think you can keep up?”

I put down my bag, then take the twisty band from my wrist and pull up my hair in a messy ponytail. “The better question would be do you think
you
can keep up with
me
?”

“I distinctly remember keeping up just fine, Katy.”

“Yeah, but you’re an old man now, so I’ll probably get the jump on you.”

He’s almost doubled over laughing at my prediction. Albeit a bad one, because sure, I may still play volleyball every so often and run here or there in my spare time, but I haven’t played any kind of actual football in a while. But in order to play football, all it really takes is a belief that you can; you have to convince yourself that you cannot be beaten, no matter what. If not, you might as well not even try.

He tosses me the ball, and I catch it easily. But I’m worried because I didn’t wear a sports bra. It’s not like he could’ve warned me that I would need it. Plus, how would that conversation even go?
Katy, make sure you strap your boobs down so they don’t hurt.

We walk into the clearing where other people are playing with their kids and their dogs. They’re scattered around and enjoying the beautiful early evening weather, so we blend right in.

Quickly, we get the lay of the land and the amount of space we have to work with. He points to two specific groups of people on each side of us and anoints them as our out-of-bounds guide. Then I look over his shoulder and find the one tree far enough away to be considered the end zone.

“Okay, so I’ll throw you a screen pass, then give you up to three Mississippi,” he says, putting his hands out so I can toss him the ball back. “When I catch you, you’re going to regret wearing white.”

I look down at my mostly white T-shirt and then back up at Conner with a roll of my eyes. “Please,
if
you catch me is more like it.”

“If that’s how you want to play it, fine.” He stands at our imaginary starting line and then motions to his left, where I’m supposed to be. “Are you ready?”

I get myself into a ready-to-take-off-and-run-the-hell-off-into-the-distance stance and then nod instead of answering out loud.

Conner shouts out a quick, “Ready, set, go,” then volleys the ball into my waiting arms. And I’m off. My ponytail is swinging back and forth and swishing so loud that I can barely hear him counting down. But soon I can hear him running behind me.

With every step I get closer to our end zone, he’s gaining ground. I hear him laughing behind me, though, as soon as I cross the line and spike the ball.

He slows his run down and stops beside me. We’re both leaned over and have our hands on our knees, breathing heavily. When I look up at Conner, he’s got that familiar smirk on his face. “I wasn’t running at full speed. Figured I’d let you have one.”

In the background, a random woman’s voice yells out, “Girl power!”

I crack up and then toss the ball back to Conner. “Two out of three? So I can prove once and for all who is the better player and end this right here, right now.”

“You’re on, Shadow.”

We trot the rest of the way back to the starting line and get ourselves into position. In my mind, I can already envision myself easily beating Conner, so I snicker at him as if we were little kids all over again. Then I get myself back into kicking-his-ass mode and put on the straight face. He chuckles at how serious my face gets and, I think, at how serious I’m taking this little impromptu competition. Which only serves to get me just the right amount of ticked off to make sure I beat him this time again.

Before long, Conner lobs me the ball and counts down. Then I’m sprinting for all I’m worth down the open field, closer to the sideline this time. And not too long after that, he’s right on my heels. A lot closer this time around.

I’m so close I can taste it and the victory dance is already running through my head when Conner pops the ball out of my grasp from behind and tries to steal it. We’re both in a tangle of arms and legs, trying to grab the football that is bouncing in between us in midair, until we both fall down on the ground. Thankfully, we weren’t running at full speed anymore, so the fall isn’t that bad. It’s the way we land that’s the problem.

I’m on my back, my hands above my head, holding on to the tip of the football for dear life. Conner is on top of me, straddling my hips, and reaching forward to grab the ball. It would all be fun and games if there wasn’t this underlying tension that, yes, Mimi was correct, starts to build up between us. And when he goes to make a final grab at the ball, he stills his movements, looking down at me without saying a word.

I’m so close that I can see my reflection in his hazel eyes, which are staring right back at me. A chunk of his tousled light brown hair falls forward then and onto his forehead. And it takes everything in me not to reach up and push it aside for him. His eyes then veer their course and look down at my lips for the briefest of moments, making me want to pull him down closer . . . and closer still. But just as quickly as I catch him doing this and just as quickly as our previously rapid breathing slows to an almost trancelike rate, he sits up an inch or two and breaks the spell.

Then we hear the same random woman’s voice from earlier yell, “Kiss her!”

He chuckles heartily at that and shakes his head while I completely ignore it.

And then everything seems to go right back to the way it was. He stands up and gives me a hand to help me off the ground. I pretend that didn’t just happen and start to dust myself off.

“You’ve got something right . . .” He comes a step closer. His hand reaches out and into my hair, carefully pulling out a leaf. “There. Got it.”

He holds the leaf and starts to spin it in between his fingers, mesmerized by it for a beat, then looks up at me and says my nickname once, as if remembering I’m still there.

“Yeah?” I ask cautiously.

“I think it’s time we stop playing games.” He tosses the leaf onto the ground and takes my hand in his with a big grin. “You’ve earned your keep. Let’s eat.”

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

W
hen I leave Conner a couple of hours later, my head is spinning.

It’s not that the rest of the time with him had any other uncomfortable moments; in fact, it’s the opposite. The problem is that neither of us acknowledged what almost happened, which is driving me crazy.

Because there is no doubt in my mind he was absolutely, one hundred percent about to kiss me when he had me pinned to the ground. As a woman, you just know these things. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure it out. Kind of how Jonathan described it: if he’s attracted to you, you’ll be able to tell.

And Conner is, without a doubt, attracted to me.

But he’s not sold on the idea. It’s almost as if he catches himself and remembers that it’s me, Shadow, Katy, whatever. It’s his childhood friend that he finds attractive all of a sudden and he doesn’t really know what to do about it. Although, I could very well just be imagining all of it.

The look in his eyes was too full of want and temptation. And when his eyes zeroed in on my lips, I swear I could almost taste his lips against mine. My heart was hammering at about a thousand beats per second, waiting for a moment to happen that in the past I’d wanted so much. In the back of my mind, I was already dismissing the concern that he’d be going home soon. But time was nothing but a momentary roadblock keeping me from fulfilling my teenage dreams,, consequences be damned.

We left things light between us, almost too casual. We left things as if nothing happened and everything was A-OK, tentatively making plans for later in the week since the next couple of days I’ll be on a deadline. This was fine by him since he had some things to take care of too.

Instead of driving home, I head over to the restaurant Mimi works at to take my mind off of things with Conner for a while. She’ll have plenty to say about everything that happened today with Conner . . . and for that matter, with Dylan too. Because that whole Rachel business is still bugging me.

When I pull into the parking lot of Canyon Café, I immediately spot Simon’s police cruiser. Great, just what I need today: a big heaping dose of Big Brother is Watching. How did he even know I was planning on heading over here? It’s like he has a sixth sense or something where I’m concerned.

I stroll into the bar area to find Simon leaning against it and Mimi on the other side facing off with him. He’s grinning from ear to ear, while her arms are folded and she’s in a stance that screams that she’s pissed.

“What’s going on here?” I pull up a chair to watch the fireworks. “What did you say to her?”

“Me?” Simon points to himself with a dry laugh, then points to Mimi. “I don’t know what her problem is. I come in here to see if she knows where you are, and she gives me an attitude.”

“Oh please, you are so full of shit,” Mimi says.

“I’m full of shit?” he asks her.

She leans into the bar, her eyes going soft and warm. If I didn’t know that she loathes Simon, I’d think that she was about to grab his face and start kissing him senseless. In a sweet voice, she says, “You are so full of shit and you know it, Simon.”

“Can we not do this today?” I motion across what little space is left between them. “I’m not in the mood at all.”

Simon breaks his stare down with Mimi, which clearly Mimi was going to win, as she always does, to glance in my direction. “Does every woman I know have a problem with me today?”

“So you admit you only know two women?” Mimi asks. “I already knew that you suck with the ladies, but thanks for confirming that.”

Simon starts to say something right back to her, but I put my hand up again. “Seriously, guys. Not tonight.”

“Fine.” They say in unison.

Mimi backs off the bar and turns her attention to me. She tilts her head to the side as she inspects me, trying to guess what could possibly have me in such a mood.

“Something happened today, didn’t it?” she asks finally, after too long of a silence. “Which one?”

“Which one what?” Simon asks.

“None of your business,” she says to Simon without sparing him a glance. Then, turning to me, she reaches across the bar and taps my hand with her index finger softly. “Hey, are you okay?”

“Katy, what the hell is going on?” Simon’s voice is slightly frustrated now.

“Ignore him, okay?” Mimi says quietly to me. Then she looks over at him. “Simon, I’m going to ask you nicely so you know that I’m being serious. Please stop, turn around, and leave her alone.”

Without a word, Simon turns on his heel and walks out of the bar as if under a magic spell. If I wasn’t here to witness it myself with my own eyes, I wouldn’t believe it.

“Wow, that actually worked,” I say, still watching the doors he walked through and then looking back to Mimi in awe. “Why haven’t we tried that tactic before?”

She waves her hand through the air as if it was nothing. “Forget about him. What’s going on with you?”

“How can you tell?”

“It’s my job as your best friend to be able to read you like a book. Trust me, Katy, I can tell something is up.”

“Can I have a shot of Jameson?”

Her eyebrows fly so high up on her forehead that it looks like she doesn’t have any to begin with. “What was that?”

“I
said
, can I please have a shot of Jameson?” I ask again.

“Okay, no, I definitely heard you right, it’s just . . . well, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you take a shot of anything.”

“Well, there’s a first time for everything.”

“Apparently.” She mumbles this as she reaches underneath the bar. With dexterity that comes from years of bartending and studying Tom Cruise in
Cocktail
, she tosses a bottle of amber liquid in the air and catches it. Then she puts a shot glass in front of me and dips the Posi-Pour to the edge to start filling it. “Bottoms up.”

“Bottoms up,” I echo as I take it and bring it to my lips. Without hesitation, I kick it back and let the liquid burn my throat. My face winces slightly, and then I say, “Another, please.”

Mimi moves the bottle off of the bar and puts it away. “Uh-uh, now you’re officially scaring me. No more until I decide that you’ve earned it.”

I laugh. “That’s what Conner said.”

“Conner said what now?” Mimi asks in a huff. “You know what? Why don’t you start at the beginning instead of jumping into story time like I was actually there.”

“Fine.” I rub the heels of my hands against my weary eyes and start at the beginning. “Did you know that Dylan is seeing Rachel?”

“Rachel? As in Tits Magee Rachel?”

“The one and only.”

“Are you sure?” she asks. “Because Dylan doesn’t strike me as the type to be into all of that. Then again, even I’d like to motorboat her, so . . .”

“That’s the thing, I’m not sure if he is or he isn’t.”

My mind veers off to my lunch with Dylan and how things were left unsaid and unexplained between us. And as disconcerting as it is that something could be going on between him and Rachel other than her subbing for me at volleyball, I feel ridiculous for having an issue with it at all.

Mimi snaps her fingers in front of my face. “Earth to Katy, come in, Katy.”

“I’m having some trouble reconciling the fact that he’s into her. It just doesn’t seem like him, you know?”

“Mm-hmm, sure. Whatever you say.”

“I mean, it’s not just me, right? Even you think it’s strange that he’s into her.”

“He’s a red-blooded male,” Mimi says. “The poor guy probably just wants some alone time with her rack to forget about you for a minute or two and how you’re hanging out with Conner all of a sudden. I don’t blame him one bit.”

“Dylan hasn’t even met Conner. There is no way that that can be true.”

“He doesn’t have to meet Conner to be jealous of him.” She is momentarily distracted by another customer and fulfills their drink order before coming back to me. “So what actually happened today that has you like this?”

“I almost kissed Conner. Actually, he almost kissed me.”

Mimi’s eyes widen as she leans her elbows on the bar. “Almost? Like tongues on the outside with no lips touching almost kind of kissing or close-mouthed and friend-zoned kind of kissing?”

“Who kisses with tongues on the outside like that? That’s gross!”

“Well, if you’ve got a cold sore or something on your lip, you have to get creative,” she explains matter-of-factly.

My stomach turns picturing this. “That is disgusting, Mimi! Please tell me you’ve never done that!”

“No, no, of course not. Forget I mentioned it, go on with your story.”

“Okay, yeah, fine, um . . . where was I?”

She puckers up her lips and smacks them together loudly.

“Yeah, that’s right,” I say. “He almost kissed me. I mean, he was like right there staring at my lips like I was the last drop of water in a dry desert, and then nothing. It was as if he changed his mind all of a sudden and stopped himself.”

“Did you have bad breath?” she asks.

“What? No!”

“It wouldn’t kill you to keep a mint in your back pocket. Just saying.”

I wave her off. “It had nothing to do with my nonexistent bad breath. He just stopped himself.”

“Maybe he didn’t think it was the right time. Did you ever think of that?”

“I don’t know, Mimi. It felt really weird to be pinned to ground underneath him and—”

She puts up her hand to stop me. “Stop! You failed to mention before that he was on top of you. How did that happen?”

“We were playing football at the park and he tackled me.” Her hand starts to move as if egging me on, so I add. “And that’s it, really. He tackled me and was straddling my hips. Then the next thing I know, he’s leaning forward and staring at my lips like he was going to eat me alive. And then nothing! He stopped!”

She lets out a long whistle when I finish talking. “Damn, girl, you were busy today, huh?”

“You can say that again. It was definitely interesting.”

Mimi rests her elbows on the bar, then says, “All right, first let’s tackle Conner, shall we?”

“By all means.”

“Katy, he’s probably not sure how to treat you. I mean, he knows how to treat you as a friend, obviously, but as a woman he’s attracted to, not so much. Let me ask you this . . . would you have let him kiss you?”

Again, the answer comes to me quickly. Yes, I would have. There is only so much your imagination can conjure until you want to try out the real thing. So I nod.

“Then you need to figure out if this is a one-time thing between the two of you or if either of you is looking for more. And more importantly, you’re going to have to make the first move with Conner. He’s too freaked out by the prospect that you’re a grown-up and hot to be able to do it on his own. So you’re going to have to bite the bullet if you want to finally see what he’s like in the sack.”

“Mimi, since when have you known me to make the first move?” She thinks on this for good couple of seconds, until I say, “Never, that’s when.”

“Well, there’s always a first time for everything. Don’t knock it until you try it.”

I shake my head. “And that whole thing you said about wanting more . . . that would be impossible since he doesn’t even live here.”

“Stranger things have happened.” Then she smiles and says, “Which brings us back to Dylan.”

“Can you believe him and Rachel?” I ask again, still genuinely surprised by this development. “I still can’t wrap my head around it.”

“Oh, Katy, Katy, Katy.” She props her chin up with her hand and grins like an idiot at me for a beat. “You don’t have a problem with Dylan and Rachel being together. That is, if they’re even really together or going to be together or whatever the hell they are.”

“I don’t?” I ask, relieved that she thinks this.

“No, you don’t,” she says softly. “Your problem is seeing Dylan with
anyone
. It doesn’t matter if her name is Rachel or not. You’re jealous. End of story. And the sooner you admit this to yourself, the sooner we can move on to how you’re going to deal with Dylan in your life. Because, sweetie, he’s in your life . . . but you need to be careful with him.”

“Careful? Why do I need to be careful with him?”

“He cares a lot about you and has for a long time,” she answers as I’m saying no to her, but she shushes me quickly. “Katy, you can really hurt him the most in all of this, so please, just be careful with him.”

“I would never hurt Dylan, that’s ridiculous.”

“Sometimes we don’t mean to hurt the ones we love, but we do anyway.”

“I’m not jealous of Rachel and I certainly am not
in love
with Dylan, Mimi.” She raises an eyebrow at this and smacks her lips together as if I am boring her now. “I care about him, of course. A lot, as a friend . . . but that’s it. And as a friend, I don’t want to see him with someone
like
Rachel. Just like I wouldn’t want to see you with the male equivalent of Rachel.”

She stares at me with a knowing smile and doesn’t say another word. When her mouth drops open to finally give me more of what’s on her mind, I’m saved by the bell. A couple strolls into the bar and decides to sit one seat over from me, forcing Mimi to give them her undivided attention immediately. I take the opportunity to sneak off my bar stool and start gathering my things to leave.

“Chickenshit,” Mimi mumbles under her breath.

“Me? I’m not the one dating someone in secret,” I say with a sly smile, and then she squints her eyes at me. “Yeah, don’t think I’ve forgotten about that. Good night, Mimi.”

“Yeah, good night to you too.”

My back is to her when she says this, so I raise my hand and wave to her, already making my way to the door. I need to get home and hide under the blankets and figure out what I’m going to do about Conner . . . and Dylan. Maybe tomorrow I’ll get a do-over. But once I’m in bed, my thoughts become a jumble of images that range from Dylan with faceless women to Conner actually kissing me for the first time. It’s that last thought that brings a memory still as vivid today as it was when it actually happened. And this time I don’t need the letter to remind myself how painful it was when he rejected me.

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