All rights reserved © 2024 Kyra Fox

Trista

I tap the cracked screen of my iPhone again, my eyes scanning the display for any sign of missed messages or calls. The bars and Wi-Fi connection are strong, but I still feel anxious. 

Today marks week forty-three since I moved to Los Angeles, away from my friends, my family, my entire life. Him

All the others I can do without. Sort of. I’m gradually getting used to the distance from the people who make up the puzzle of my existence. His absence screams volumes, though. Every day it becomes louder until the only thing I hear is the overbearing silence of solitude.

Lauren Banks, my closest friend in LA, shimmies her narrow hips until she’s comfortably seated on my desk, and eyes my cream cheese bagel. 

“Hungry?” I ask wryly.

“I haven’t eaten anything except for carrot and celery sticks since I left the house this morning.”

“Remind me again why I have to give up my afternoon snack just because you choose to live off rabbit food?”

“Because the calories don’t count when it’s your food.”

I glare at the lean blond, only two years older than me, but mature well beyond her age. Raised by elderly grandparents after her parents were killed in a plane crash, she had to grow up too fast, too soon. Like too many people I know. 

Sighing, I push the plate to Lauren. She smiles a giant smile and takes the bagel. 

“No lox?” She frowns. “You’re a broken Jew.”

“I’m only half a Jew.”

“It’s the half that counts.” She winks before taking a bite.

“I can’t believe you stole my food and still have the audacity to complain.”

“What happened to your phone?” Lauren asks after she swallows.

“I dropped it.”

“You mean you threw it over the railing of your gallery bedroom again, only this time it missed the couch?”

 I open my mouth to protest her audacious, yet accurate, assumption, then groan. “I hate how you know me so well after less than a year.”

“You do that almost every morning when your alarm goes off. It’s a law of nature. You know, like gravity,” Lauren says with a pointed glare, then jerks her head toward my abused phone. “What’s with the constant checking?”

“Zoe called me this morning, asked if Brian had talked to me. When I said no, she got all weird about it.” I lean back and look at Lauren chew on another bite of my bagel as she swipes her seamless waves of blonde hair over her shoulder and inspects the ends for splits. 

“Brian, huh?” she says off-handily. “Would that be Brian Jenkins, your best friend’s older brother? The same Brian Jenkins you were roommates with for three years? The famous B whose first kiss you hijacked when you guys were sixteen?” 

“I am seriously regretting telling you about that.” I grab my phone off the table and unlock it, opening the Reddit app with a pout.

“The same Brian you’ve stated multiple times has the ‘sexiest brain of any man you’ve ever met’—” she continues, adding air quotes. “—and a scorching hot bod, which you tend to describe in great detail after one too many tequilas. That Brian?” 

“Yes, Lauren, that Brian.”

“Interesting.” She checks her manicured fingernails, feigning indifference. “So, you got weird vibes from his cousin during a phone call, and now you’re sitting around and waiting for him to make contact after ten months of stonewalling?”

“He isn’t stonewalling me.” Lauren bobs her head as if she’s nodding in agreement, but I know her well enough to see the sarcasm behind the gesture. “He isn’t! He’s just going through stuff, and I’m not there to support him. How is it fair to judge him when I’m the one who left, Lore?”

“You left for your career, Tris.” Lauren plants the tip of her designer boots on the edge of my chair, stopping me from turning away. “He was your friend and roommate, not your boyfriend. You didn’t abandon him to come here, and he has no right to punish you for following your dreams.”

“He isn’t punishing me.” I shove Lauren’s foot off. “You know nothing about him, Lauren, so can it.”

“Sheesh, sorry.”

“Convincing.” I scoff, shaking my head. “You’re my friend, and I love you, but Brian is the best person I’ve ever known. You don’t get to talk shit about him, ever.”

“Okay.” Lauren hops off my desk and squeezes my shoulder. “I’m sorry. For real this time.”

“Thank you.” I’m aware I still sound a bit pissy. It’s more about what Lauren doesn’t know, the secrets I’ve been keeping to myself for so long and boil over every once in a while. There used to be a time when I believed Brian was my happily ever after, but, much to my regret, that wasn’t our fated path. 

Lauren must sense I’m going down a rabbit hole of self-pity, because she changes the subject. “You up for some tequila and salsa tonight?” 

“A night out sounds fantastic.”

“Awesome, I’ll text Jason.”

I narrow my eyes. “Why?” 

“Because Jason and I haven’t been dancing in ages. Hell, Jason and I haven’t been out in ages.” Jason is Lauren’s college boyfriend. He’s…well, he’s an asshole, no way around that one. “I’ll ask him to invite some of his friends from the firm. That way, you won’t feel like a third wheel.” 

“Jeez, thanks, Lore.” I roll my eyes. “When you put it that way, I’ll pass.”

“Come on, Jason can get us a VIP table.” She steeples her hands together and in a sing-song voice says, “Free tequiiiiila…”

“Ugh, fine,” I relent. “But only because drinking on Jason’s dime sounds better than staring at my phone all Friday night.”

“I’ll take that as a win.” Lauren hops off my desk. “But we need to have a serious talk about your obsession with a guy who barely takes your calls when you’re less bitchy about it.”

I guffaw at Lauren, who isn’t even trying to suppress her teasing smile, then laugh. “Fuck you, Banks.”

“Love you too, Edwards.” She gives me a little finger wave over her shoulder. “I’ll be back to pick you up at clock-out hour.”

I let my smile slip once she’s gone, my gaze returning to my phone. I’ve had my hopes up so many times, waited so many days and nights for a call or text. Anything to show me Brian still cared. Every time his name would pop up on my screen, my heart would flutter. He’d give me an inch, and it felt like a mile. But it’s never enough. It never will be. 

Lauren’s right. At a certain point, I’ll have to face the fact that Brian will never love me the same way I love him. After all, I’m the one that made sure of it. But today will not be the day. 

I force myself to focus on work, and when it’s time to call it a day, I shove my phone into my bag and collect what I need for the weekend before rushing to meet Lauren. 

“Wanna grab some early dinner?” I ask her as our elevator zips down to the lobby. “Someone stole my snack, so I’m famished.”

“No can do. I’m cooking a romantic dinner for me and Jason.” Lauren’s smile is full of excitement and hope. “He’s been working crazy hours, but promised he’d be home early tonight to make up for missing our anniversary two weeks ago.”

“Nice,” I say with all the enthusiasm I can muster. “What’re you making?”

“His favorites.” Lauren walks beside me as we exit the elevator. “Gnocchi with crispy bacon and spinach pesto, spring salad, and key lime pie.”

“Wow.” I swipe my chip at the security gate and walk through. “Now I’m officially starving.”

“If you’re hungry, I can take you out for a late lunch.” I stop dead in my tracks at the casual words spoken in a voice I’ve been waiting to hear for so long. 

My heart pounds as I slowly turn around. He’s standing right there in front of me with his hands shoved in his pockets, an apprehensive smile, and a sexy as all sin beard. The boy I couldn’t leave behind, no matter how hard I tried.

Brian.

*****

Brian

I open my arms to catch a squealing Trista as she launches at me and wraps her legs around my waist, hugging me so tightly I can barely breathe. A hint of her lavender body scrub wafts into my nostrils, clouding my senses.

“God, I missed you so much, B.” She touches her forehead to mine, and I have to remind myself that I can’t kiss her. No matter how tempting her full cherry lips look. No matter how much her white-walker-blues are beckoning me.

“I missed you too, Kitten.” I settle for cupping her jaw and running my thumb over the outline of her lower lip. Trista tightens her limbs around me, all her soft curves pressing into me, and every ounce of sensibility leaves my body.

 “You have a beard.” Her hand runs over the thick facial hair on my jawline. 

“You like?” I ask, and Trista nods a bit breathlessly. 

My thumb rubs over her lips again, and Trista tilts her head with a soft purr, her eyes drifting shut as she invites me to close the distance.

“You two need a room?” Trista’s friend interrupts our moment with a snicker.

We startle apart, realizing we’re in public and making a scene. Trista jumps off me and topples over. I catch her, and she grabs onto my arm with an apologetic smile.

“Hi, I’m Brian.” I extend my hand once Trista is upright.

“Lauren. A pleasure to meet you.” Lauren shakes it with a grin. “I’ve heard so much about you.”

“Only good things, I hope.”

“Well, Trista said say you’re super-hot, and I’m inclined to agree.” Lauren’s grin widens as heat blooms across my face.

“Lauren!” Trista laughs, completely unabashed. “I did say that, though.”

I glare at Trista with a mix of amusement and indignation. “Seriously?” 

She crumples her nose like an adorably annoyed kitten, and God, how I missed her. “Yeah, why would I not be serious?”

“You kids have fun.” Lauren waves us off with a chuckle. “See you later, Brian. Bye, Kitten.” 

Trista rolls her eyes and pulls me out of the office buiding and into the street, throwing herself into my arms again once we’re out on the busy sidewalk.

“I can’t believe you’re really here.” The way she clings to me is so untypical that I’m worried something happened when she was alone in LA and I wasn’t there to keep her safe.

“Is everything okay, Tris?” 

She nods, but doesn’t ease her grip on me.

“I’ve missed you so much,” she says again. “It’s been so hard, living without you.” 

“I’m here now.” I pull her closer and stroke her honey-colored hair, trying to hide how her words are affecting me, how much being so far away from her has shaken me, too.

“Maybe she’s realized a few things now that she doesn’t have you down the hall.”

Zoe’s fateful words have been replaying in my head for months, haunting me. But never so loud as now, when the girl they were spoken about is holding me as if she never intends to let me go again.

I continue to stroke her long braid. A fishtail braid that I’ve plaited for her more times than I can count. Her back is almost completely exposed by the low-cut black tunic shirt, and my fingers wander over the Leica camera tattoo with the film pulled out, curling into a heart at the end.

My eyes slide shut, and I take in another lungful of lavender. “I forgot how soft your skin is.” 

Trista brings her forehead to mine, framing my jaw with her palms as we share a gentle intimacy that’s been severely lacking from my life since she left Boston. I hadn’t realized just how much until this moment.

Trista sniffles and turns her face away from mine before taking a step back and lifting her head with a bright smile. 

“You feel bigger, B, let me look at you.”

It’s awkward, standing there while Trista checks me out, but I let her. I can’t say no to her. I may be MENSA smart, but in all things Trista Edwards, my big, and at times overbearing brain refuses to cooperate, even when the logical parts of it are sending distress signals.

“I’ve, um, been hitting the gym with Mac.” I shrug. “Probably the reason.”

“You look good,” she says, her lips curved into a smile, but her eyes are tarnished with sadness. “Really good, B.”

“Tris…” I reach out to cup her jaw, willing the sadness away. She’s so beautiful, the honey glow of her skin intensified by the LA sun. After so long, the sight of her fuels my yearning to the point I’m sure I’m going to burn from the inside out if I don’t touch her. “Come on, let’s feed you.” 

Trista smiles, taking my hand and weaving our fingers together before wrapping herself under my arm. She fits there perfectly, like we were made to be meshed this way.

“Hey, B?” Trista looks up at me with her nose scrunched in thought. “Why are you in LA?”

“I have a two-week convention.”

“And you didn’t know about it in advance?” she asks, her eyes swimming with a million questions.

“It was a last-minute thing,” I answer vaguely, leaving out the part where I begged my colleague to let me come instead of her when I learned where the convention was taking place. “You know how much I hate this part of my job, schmoozing and mingling, but I’m happy it gives me a chance to finally visit you.”

“That makes two of us.” Trista hugs my middle with a happy sigh, her softness pressing against me, tempting me.

I fortify myself for what lays ahead, telling myself this is just about seeing an old friend. After all, we were roommates for three years and close friends for almost eight. I’m allowed to miss her. 

But I can’t quite silence Zoe’s words softly echoing through my head. 

“Maybe she’s realized a few things…”

It’s high time I find out, and if nothing’s changed in the time we’ve been apart, I’ll have to find a way to get over Trista Edwards.