The corner of his mouth tilts up in a knowing smile as he passes me and heads straight for the couch.
Despite his appealing and slightly innocent-looking face, I want to yell at him for being so deceitful. He shouldn’t have waited more than two weeks to tell me. I would have had a chance to plan all this out a little better. I don’t understand how we could have had two weeks’ worth of conversations without him feeling the need to tell me that my boyfriend and my best friend were screwing.
Ridge throws the blankets and the pillow onto the couch.
“I’m not staying here, Ridge,” I say, attempting to stop him from wasting time with his hospitality. I know he feels bad for me, but I hardly know him, and I’d feel a lot more comfortable in a hotel room than sleeping on a strange couch.
Then again, hotel rooms require money.
Something I don’t have on me at the moment.
Something that’s inside my purse, across the courtyard, in an apartment with the only two people in the world I don’t want to see right now.
Maybe a couch isn’t such a bad idea after all.
He gets the couch made up and turns around, dropping his eyes to my soaking-wet clothes. I look down at the puddle of water I’m creating in the middle of his floor.
“Oh, sorry,” I mutter. My hair is matted to my face; my shirt is now a see-through pathetic excuse for a barrier between the outside world and my very pink, very noticeable bra. “Where’s your bathroom?”
He nods his head toward the bathroom door.
I turn around, unzip a suitcase, and begin to rummage through it while Ridge walks back into his bedroom. I’m glad he doesn’t ask me questions about what happened after our conversation earlier. I’m not in the mood to talk about it.
I select a pair of yoga pants and a tank top, then grab my bag of toiletries and head to the bathroom. It disturbs me that everything about this apartment reminds me of my own, with just a few subtle differences. This is the same bathroom with the Jack-and-Jill doors on the left and right, leading to the two bedrooms that adjoin it. One is Ridge’s, obviously. I’m curious about who the other bedroom belongs to but not curious enough to open it. The Hooters girl’s one rule was to stay the hell out of her room, and she doesn’t seem like the type to kid around.
I shut the door that leads to the living room and lock it, then check the locks on both doors to the bedrooms to make sure no one can walk in. I have no idea if anyone lives in this apartment other than Ridge and the Hooters girl, but I don’t want to chance it.
I pull off my sopping clothes and throw them into the sink to avoid soaking the floor. I turn on the shower and wait until the water gets warm, then step in. I stand under the stream of water and close my eyes, thankful that I’m not still sitting outside in the rain. At the same time, I’m not really happy to be where I am, either.
I never expected my twenty-second birthday to end with me showering in a strange apartment and sleeping on a couch that belongs to a guy I’ve barely known for two weeks, all at the hands of the two people I cared about and trusted the most.
TWO WEEKS EARLIER
I slide open my balcony door and step outside, thankful that the sun has already dipped behind the building next door, cooling the air to a perfect fall temperature. Almost on cue, the sound of his guitar floats across the courtyard as I take a seat and lean back into the patio lounger. I tell Tori I come out here to get homework done, because I don’t want to admit that the guitar is the only reason I’m outside every night at eight, like clockwork.
For weeks now, the guy in the apartment across the courtyard has sat on his balcony and played for at least an hour. Every night, I sit outside and listen.
I’ve noticed a few other neighbors come out to their balconies when he’s playing, but no one is as loyal as I am. I don’t understand how someone could hear these songs and not crave them day after day. Then again, music has always been a passion of mine, so maybe I’m just a little more infatuated with his sound than other people are. I’ve played the piano for as long as I can remember, and although I’ve never shared it with anyone, I love writing music. I even switched my major to music education two years ago. My plan is to be an elementary music teacher, although if my father had his way, I’d still be prelaw.
“A life of mediocrity is a waste of a life,” he said when I informed him that I was changing my major.
A life of mediocrity. I find that more amusing than insulting, since he seems to be the most dissatisfied person I’ve ever known. And he’s a lawyer. Go figure.
One of the familiar songs ends and the guy with the guitar begins to play something he’s never played before. I’ve grown accustomed to his unofficial playlist since he seems to practice the same songs in the same order night after night. However, I’ve never heard him play this particular song before. The way he’s repeating the same chords makes me think he’s creating the song right here on the spot. I like that I’m witnessing this, especially since after only a few chords, it’s already my new favorite. All his songs sound like originals. I wonder if he performs them locally or if he just writes them for fun.
I lean forward in the chair, rest my arms on the edge of the balcony, and watch him. His balcony is directly across the courtyard, far enough away that I don’t feel weird when I watch him but close enough that I make sure I’m never watching him when Hunter’s around. I don’t think Hunter would like the fact that I’ve developed a tiny crush on this guy’s talent.
I can’t deny it, though. Anyone who watches how passionately this guy plays would crush on his talent. The way he keeps his eyes closed the entire time, focusing intently on every stroke against every guitar string. I like it best when he sits cross-legged with the guitar upright between his legs. He pulls it against his chest and plays it like a stand-up bass, keeping his eyes closed the whole time. It’s so mesmerizing to watch him that sometimes I catch myself holding my breath, and I don’t even realize I’m doing it until I’m gasping for air.
It also doesn’t help that he’s cute. At least, he seems cute from here. His light brown hair is unruly and moves with him, falling across his forehead every time he looks down at his guitar. He’s too far away to distinguish eye color or distinct features, but the details don’t matter when coupled with the passion he has for his music. There’s a confidence to him that I find compelling. I’ve always admired musicians who are able to tune out everyone and everything around them and pour all of their focus into their music. To be able to shut the world off and allow yourself to be completely swept away is something I’ve always wanted the confidence to do, but I just don’t have it.
This guy has it. He’s confident and talented. I’ve always been a sucker for musicians, but more in a fantasy way. They’re a different breed. A breed that rarely makes for good boyfriends.
He glances at me as if he can hear my thoughts, and then a slow grin appears across his face. He never once pauses the song while he continues to watch me. The eye contact makes me blush, so I drop my arms and pull my notebook back onto my lap and look down at it. I hate that he just caught me staring so hard. Not that I was doing anything wrong; it just feels odd for him to know I was watching him. I glance up again, and he’s still watching me, but he’s not smiling anymore. The way he’s staring causes my heart to speed up, so I look away and focus on my notebook.
Way to be a creeper, Sydney.
“There’s my girl,” a comforting voice says from behind me. I lean my head back and tilt my eyes upward to watch Hunter as he makes his way onto the balcony. I try to hide the fact that I’m shocked to see him, because I’m pretty sure I was supposed to remember he was coming.
On the off chance that Guitar Boy is still watching, I make it a point to seem really into Hunter’s hello kiss so that maybe I’ll seem less like a creepy stalker and more like someone just casually relaxing on her patio. I run my hand up Hunter’s neck as he leans over the back of my chair and kisses me upside down.
“Scoot up,” Hunter says, pushing on my shoulders. I do what he asks and slide forward in the seat as he lifts his leg over the chair and slips in behind me. He pulls my back against his chest and wraps his arms around me.
My eyes betray me when the sound of the guitar stops abruptly, and I glance across the courtyard once more. Guitar Boy is eyeing us hard as he stands, then goes back inside his apartment. His expression is odd. Almost angry.
“How was school?” Hunter asks.
“Too boring to talk about. What about you? How was work?”
“Interesting,” he says, brushing my hair away from my neck with his hand. He presses his lips to my neck and kisses his way down my collarbone.
“What was so interesting?”
He tightens his hold on me, then rests his chin on my shoulder and pulls me back in the chair with him. “The oddest thing happened at lunch,” he says. “I was with one of the guys at this Italian restaurant. We were eating out on the patio, and I had just asked the waiter what he recommended for dessert, when a police car rounded the corner. They stopped right in front of the restaurant, and two officers jumped out with their guns drawn. They began barking orders toward us when our waiter mumbled, ‘Shit.’ He slowly raised his hands, and the police jumped the barrier to the patio, rushed toward him, threw him to the ground, and cuffed him right at our feet. After they read him his rights, they pulled him to his feet and escorted him toward the cop car. The waiter glanced back at me and yelled, ‘The tiramisu is really good!’ Then they put him in the car and drove away.”
I tilt my head back and look up at him. “Seriously? That really happened?”
He nods, laughing. “I swear, Syd. It was crazy.”
“Well? Did you try the tiramisu?”
“Hell, yeah, we did. It was the best tiramisu I’ve ever had.” He kisses me on the cheek and pushes me forward. “Speaking of food, I’m starving.” He stands up and holds out his hand to me. “Did you cook tonight?”
I take his hand and let him pull me up. “We just had salad, but I can make you one.”
Once we’re inside, Hunter takes a seat on the couch next to Tori. She’s got a textbook spread open across her lap as she halfheartedly focuses on both homework and TV at the same time. I take out the containers from the fridge and make his salad. I feel a little guilty that I forgot tonight was one of the nights he said he was coming. I usually have something cooked when I know he’ll be here.
We’ve been dating for almost two years now. I met him during my sophomore year in college, when he was a senior. He and Tori had been friends for years. After she moved into my dorm and we became friends, she insisted I meet him. She said we’d hit it off, and she was right. We made it official after only two dates, and things have been wonderful since.
Of course, we have our ups and downs, especially since he moved more than an hour away. When he landed the job in the accounting firm last semester, he suggested I move with him. I told him no, that I really wanted to finish my undergrad before taking such a huge step. In all honesty, I’m just scared.