Collide

By: Gail McHugh

Chapter Seven

Friendly Intentions

“Miss, you never brought our appetizer.”

Without saying a word, Emily stared blankly at the woman’s face. Her scattered thoughts were obviously not where they should be.

The woman glared at Emily. “Hello? Our dinners have arrived, and you never brought out our appetizer.”

“I’m…I’m so sorry,” Emily stammered. “I’ll be right back with it.”

Rushing into the kitchen, she let the cooks know she needed an order of mozzarella sticks on the fly. She made her way back to the table, apologized again, and let them know that it would be another few minutes. Trying to recover any possible chance of a tip, Emily offered to pay for their dessert. With that, the missing appetizer became a thing of the past as the woman smiled and accepted.

Letting out a sigh of relief, Emily took a seat at the bar, thankful that they hadn’t complained…or so she thought.

“Country,” Antonio said. “What just happened? Table sixteen told me you forgot their appetizer?”

“Yes, I’m sorry. Roberto is taking care of it right now.”

“Did you offer them dessert?”

“I did.”

“Are you okay?” he asked, placing a caring hand on her shoulder. “You seem out of it tonight.”

“I just have a lot going on right now, Antonio. I’m sorry. It won’t happen again.”

“If you’re not feeling good, I can let you off early,” he replied with concern filling his face.

“Thanks, but I’m alright.”

He nodded and headed into his office.

Emily trudged through work over the next few hours. The evening passed by in a blur as she found herself still trying to grasp everything that had happened. By the time her shift was over, she felt physically and mentally drained.

With her head peering down into her purse searching for her wallet, Emily opened the door to leave, only to run smack into what felt like a brick wall. An audible “oof” broke through her lips. She snapped her head up to apologize, and then her emerald green eyes locked on to beautiful baby blues.

“Jesus, are you alright?” Gavin asked, reaching out to steady her.

Emily struggled not to gasp at the subtle contact of his warm strong fingers wrapped around her arms. Her senses were momentarily rewarded from his cologne wafting through the air around them. A flush crept over her cheeks from the spike in temperature between them, making her feel like she might burst into flames. As Gavin looked down at her, he held her gaze—a dangerous thing to do because a girl could seriously lose herself in those eyes, especially after what had happened between them. That kiss had been devastating, painful, euphoric, and everything else she had imagined it would be—all wrapped into one.

Damn that kiss.

She wondered if she would ever be able to pull herself to the surface to breathe again. Her heart fluttered frantically like a butterfly trying to escape the cage of her chest. With him standing right in front of her, it bared all sorts of things she didn’t want to think about.

“Yes, I’m alright,” she answered breathlessly, still in shock at the fact that he was there.

They both seemed to be in a trance, their stares never wavering from one another.

Gavin released her arms, cleared his throat, and backed out onto the sidewalk. His heart clenched at the sight of her. Looking into her eyes, he couldn’t believe that only a week had gone by since he had seen her beautiful face, kissed her soft lips, and touched the warmth of her skin. For him, it had felt like an eternity had passed. He hated that his subconscious mind had chosen that night, knowing how vulnerable she was, and he knew he needed to apologize.

“I stopped…” He paused trying to collect his thoughts. “I stopped by hoping to catch you here. I wanted to know if I could talk with you.”

“What’s there to talk about?” she asked, trying to hide the nervousness curling through her as she stepped out of the restaurant. Her gaze traveled away from his in an attempt to keep her mind from lingering on how sexy he looked standing there in his tailored suit and tie.

He wet his lips and stared at her a moment. “I think it’s apparent…don’t you?”

Hesitantly, she looked at him. “Yes, it is,” she whispered, meeting his eyes. “What did you have in mind?”

Pulling in a breath, he ran his hand across the back of his neck. “I was thinking we could go grab a drink. There’s a coffee house right around the corner.”

A flicker of uncertainty passed across her face. “I don’t know. I’m not sure if that’s a good idea.”

“I just need five minutes of your time, Molly…I mean, Emily,” he replied, sending a full-watted smile her way.

“Ha-ha,” she said dryly.

He grinned and held his hands up in mock surrender. “Just five minutes?”

She swallowed, wanting to refuse, but her efforts were futile. “Okay, but not a minute more.”

“You have my word. It’s this way,” he said, beckoning her with his head to the corner of 44th Street.

Less than a half a city block later, the two entered a quaint little coffee shop. The scent of freshly baked pastries infused the air. A few customers sat on a comfortable red couch as others browsed the Web seated at chestnut brown tables. Behind the bar, the fashionably bored barista took their order, and they retreated to a tiny table in the back of the café.

With a smile on his face, Gavin held up his wrist and set his watch. “Okay, my time begins…now.”

Emily sheepishly looked down at her hands twisting in her lap.

Gavin leaned back against his seat and crossed his arms, the smile falling from his face. “Emily, I’m sorry for what I did,” he whispered, his eyes intense. “I made an already awkward situation worse, and I feel terrible about it.”

She looked deep into his eyes, unable to believe the words that were coming from his mouth. “You don’t have to apologize to me. It was my wrong doing—not yours.”

“No, Emily, it was my fault,” he said, emphasizing each word perfectly. “It was wrong of me to take advantage of you. I leaned in to kiss you.”

“It takes two to tango.”

“Right, but—”

“I kissed you back.”

A slow smile curled his lips, his blue eyes shimmering. “So you wanted to kiss me?”

“Are you serious?”

“Very.”

“Gavin.”

“Emily.”

She sighed. “Well, what do you expect me to say?”

“I want you to say it.”

“Say what?”

“That you wanted to kiss me.”

“You’ve lost your mind,” she scoffed. “And why do you need to hear me say it?”

Rubbing his chin, he analyzed her face, and his expression suddenly turned serious. “Because I need to know that I didn’t force you into something you didn’t want.”

“You didn’t force me.”

“Then say it, Emily.”

A blush rushed up her neck to her cheeks. “You’re unreal.”

“Say it,” he dragged the words out.

“Fine.” She nervously looked around. Bringing her eyes back to his, she crossed her arms. “I wanted to kiss you, Gavin. Are you happy now?”

“No. I still feel like an asshole for putting you in that position.”

“I guess we’re even then because I still feel like shit about doing it.” She stood up to leave. “What exactly was this talk for again?”

“I want us to establish a friendship.” He rose to his feet, hoping to stop her from walking away.

“And how do we do that, Gavin?”

“You’ve admitted that you wanted to kiss me. It was more than obvious that I wanted to kiss you. Now we can put it behind us and be friends.”

“That simple, huh?”

“That simple,” he replied with a smile though he heard the lack of determination behind his words. “Now sit back down and finish your cup of coffee with your new friend.”

“You’re a demanding friend, I see,” she quipped, grabbing for her purse. “But, really, I should get going. Dillon’s at my apartment waiting for me.”

Gavin glanced at his watch. “You gave me five minutes. I still have another two left.”

“Are you kidding me?” she laughed.

He sat back down, took a sip of his coffee, and smiled. “What’s with all of these questions, friend?”

“I’ll say it again like I did at your house,” she replied as she settled back into her seat. “You’re truly a wiseass.”

“Certified,” he laughed. “So how’ve you been?”

“I’ve been better, and I’ve been worse.”

“Okay, so that’s not necessarily a bad thing then.”

“That you’re correct about.”

“Very good.” He smiled. “So tell me something about yourself.”

“What do you want to know?”

Anything. Everything. Why’d you take him back? He thought to himself. Sliding his hand through his hair, he shrugged. “What’s your favorite flavor of ice cream?”

“Vanilla. And yours?”

“I dig vanilla, too, but I’m really a chocolate type of guy,” he answered, watching the way she nervously shifted in her seat.

As a long silence descended across the table—during which Gavin gave her another one of those intensely searching looks—Emily noticed the way he pressed his lips together as though to stop himself from asking her something that he truly wanted to know.

“So what’s your favorite color?” he finally asked.

“Gavin, can I ask you a question?”

“Anything you want.”

“What are we doing?”

“We’re playing fifty questions,” he laughed.

“No, we’re not. What do you really want to ask me?”

Drawing up a brow, he leaned back and propped his hands behind his neck. “Mmm, you’re good at reading me.” He watched her for a few more seconds, studying every beautiful curve of her face. “I’ve been told I’m hard to figure out, and this, of course, comes from people who have known me far longer than you have.”

“I find you pretty easy to read.” And she did. Although he kept certain aspects of his life guarded, he was an open book in her eyes. She took a sip of her coffee. “So shoot—what is it that you really want to know?”

He contemplated her for a moment. “Are you happy with Dillon, Emily?”

She bit her lip nervously. “Why do you want to know this?”

“We’re friends, and friends ask questions. And, besides, you’re the one who asked, don’t forget.”

“Right, I did.” She looked down to her hands and then back to Gavin. “Yes, I’m happy with him.”

Placing his elbow on the table, he pressed his chin against the palm of his hand. “Why?”

Her brows knitted together. “What do you mean why?”

“Give me the specifics.” He shrugged. “Why does he make you happy?”

She stared at him, her eyes intense, but the vibration of her phone going off broke her from his gaze.

As she answered the call, Gavin leaned back in his seat and watched her. He knew he might have crossed the line asking such a personal question, but he was unable to fight his instinct in not doing so. He had spoken with Dillon the night he left her apartment, and although he allowed Dillon to think he believed his story, he didn’t—not even close. He knew his friend all too well. The only question racing through Gavin’s mind was why Emily had fallen for it.

Emily stood up and tucked her phone back into her purse. “That was Dillon. I really have to go.”

Gavin rose to his feet and brushed his hand down her arm. “I hope you’re not upset with my question. My curiosity gets the better of me sometimes.”

She swallowed hard and shook her head. “I’m not mad at you, Gavin. However, to answer the only question that matters here, yes, Dillon makes me happy for many specific reasons. You’ll just have to take a rain check on me listing them for you, okay?”

He nodded as if that answer satisfied him, but it didn’t. Nonetheless, he wouldn’t push the issue any further.

He dug into his pants pocket. “Oh, I forgot. I have something for you.”

Gavin reached for her hand. He knew he held onto it just a little longer than he should have, but her skin felt so soft against his that it was hard to let go. Finally, when he knew he had reached his gentlemanly limit, he slipped a bottle cap into her palm.

She looked down and smiled. “So is this going to be an ongoing little thing between us—you giving me a bottle cap every time you see me?”

“That was one of the best games of toss-the-bottle-cap-into-the-pot I’ve ever played,” he laughed. “So, yes, it’ll be our little thing, along with me calling you Molly occasionally, too.”

She smiled at him. “Thank you.”

They made their way outside where Gavin hailed a taxi over for her.

He closed the door behind her after she got in and leaned himself through the window. “She’s going to Columbus and West 74th,” he said, handing the driver money for the ride. “This should cover the fare and your tip.”

He then banged on the top of the roof, alerting the driver that he could leave.

As the taxi pulled away, Emily told the man to stop. She jumped out of the cab as Gavin was walking away.

“Gavin, wait!” she called out, wondering exactly what the hell she was doing.

Gavin turned around with his hands in his pockets. He stared at her from a few feet away.

“I just wanted to say thank you,” she said, trying to catch a steady breath. “Not just for the cab fare—that was very sweet—but also for…for talking with me about my mother and for stopping by tonight. I know both of those things were hard for you. It was hard for me as well, but…” She looked down to the ground then back to him, willing herself not to sink into his eyes. “I don’t know. I’m just rambling on now. I have a tendency to do that. But I just wanted to thank you…thank you, Gavin.”

Although he wanted to move toward her—God knew he did—he had to stop himself from crossing the distance between them. “You’re welcome.” He stared at her for a few lingering seconds. “I’ll see you around, pal?”

Emily nodded. “Yes, I’ll see you around, pal.”

Gavin watched her get back into the taxi. He watched until his eyes hurt from focusing on the lights of the vehicle as it disappeared into the frenzied flow of traffic, turning into nothing but a tiny speckle of color. His tall hard body was somehow at odds with his emotions. He wanted Emily. He ached for her. It wasn’t just lust. Because all he really wanted to do was kiss her and feel her body pressed against his again. Every part of him longed to hold her and take care of her. Emily had stirred things within him back to life—things that he had shoved away for longer than he had realized. He wasn’t sure how she did it—making him feel the way he did when she was around him—but he knew the whole situation might consume him and set him ablaze, scattering his ashes from one end of the city to the next.

So friends…friends is what he would have to accept.

“Hello, beautiful,” Dillon said when Emily opened the door to her apartment. He got up from the couch, walked over to her, and pulled her into his arms. “I missed you. What took you so long?”

“We had a late rush,” she replied, trying to successfully pull off the lie burning a hole through her gut. “Did you get the movie?”

“I did. Go get in the shower, and I’ll set us up.” He scratched at his chest and sauntered into the kitchen. “Oh, there’s a surprise in your bedroom.”

Smiling, she cocked her head to the side. “What did you do?”

“Nah, nothing big.” He tossed a bag of popcorn into the microwave. “I was just thinking about you today.”

After dropping her purse onto the table, she made her way down the hall. Upon entering her room, she took in the sight of six-dozen red roses scattered throughout the space. Each dozen was in a beautiful crystal vase. He even scattered some petals across her queen-sized white duvet cover. Although touched by the gesture, her smile was weak. The scent of them pleasantly assaulted her nose while she tried not to fester in her guilt of just finishing her secret “coffee date” with Gavin.

Once showered, she slipped back into the living room and lay down with Dillon on the couch. His body curled possessively around hers as she absently traced circling patterns across his bare chest.

She looked into his eyes. “Thank you for the flowers. They’re beautiful.”

“Well, I’m glad you like them.” He kissed the top of her dampened hair. “Like I said, I thought of you all day.”

“You’re too sweet.” She nuzzled her nose against his neck. “Oh, I forgot to tell you. I got a call back from one of the schools I submitted my resume to.”

“Did you? That’s awesome, babe. Where is it?”

“It’s in Brooklyn.” She thought for a second. “Bush something. I have to look at what I wrote down. I have an interview on Monday.”

“Bushwick?

“Yes, that’s the name.” She smiled, reaching for a piece of popcorn on the end table.

“Em, you can’t take a job out there. It’s not safe.”

“Dillon, I’ll be fine.”

“No, Emily, I’m telling you—you’re not taking the job out there. Send some more resumes out and wait for something else,” he replied with finality in his voice.

“Are you being for real?”

“Babe, I’m just looking out for you. It’s not a good neighborhood,” he answered, pressing his mouth against her forehead. “You’ll wait for something else. Besides, we’ve already been over this—if you need money, I’ll give it to you.”

“It’s not that, Dillon. I’ve waited long enough, and I want something lined up for this coming school year.”

Before he could say anything further, the door swung open. Olivia walked in with her purse swinging cheerfully from her arm. She rolled her eyes in Dillon’s direction while making a gagging sound from her throat.

“Ollie, tell my girlfriend how bad Bushwick is.”

Emily waited for Olivia’s response, but it never came. She effectively ignored Dillon’s request, kicked off her shoes, and took a seat on one of the plush recliners.

“Hey, friend,” Olivia said to Emily, a beaming smile working over her lips. “How was your day?”

“Uh, my day was good,” Emily replied, unable to keep the slight laughter out of her voice. “But can you answer Dillon’s question? I’m interested in hearing about this bad-ass neighborhood.”

Still not answering, Olivia looked away as she studied the chipped pink polish on her nails.

“Liv, can you answer his question?” Emily asked with her brows now furrowed.

Olivia’s brown eyes narrowed like a snake on Dillon. “Sorry, Em, I don’t talk to assholes who jockey off their sperm, sowing their wild oats to any slut who’ll give them a blowjob behind my friend’s back,” she hissed, the words rolling off her tongue like a melted piece of ice.

Emily nearly choked, swallowing down a piece of popcorn. She felt Dillon’s body go rigid against hers right before he rose from the couch.

He shot Olivia a searing look, but his voice remained eerily calm. “Fuck off, you stupid dyke.”

Olivia plastered a smile over her gritted teeth. “Oh, that was seriously original,” she replied, her voice undaunted by his insult as she clapped her hands slowly.

“Oh my God, Dillon, how could you say that?” Emily looked to him in shock.

“Fuck her.” He casually walked across the room to the kitchen and reached into the refrigerator.

“No, honestly, fuck you, Dickhead!” Olivia spewed.

“Holy shit, would you two just stop?!”

“I’ll stop when you see the fake overcoat of charm he wears in front of you, Emily! He’s fucking around behind your back, and you’re oblivious to it!” Olivia stood up and wagged her finger in Dillon’s direction. “But, for now, he’s in my fucking house, so he can take it or get the fuck out!”

Dillon plucked his shirt from the couch, tossed it over his head, and dug his keys from his pocket.

“Dillon, wait!” Emily let out, crossing the room to go after him.

“Fuck that stupid bitch! I’ll call you later!”

He threw the door open and slammed it closed with a thundering force.

Emily stayed rooted to her spot in his wake. Her head fogged as she tried to process everything that had just happened. She spun her body around and glared at Olivia.

“You promised you wouldn’t say anything!” she spat, hot tears springing to her eyes as she moved across the room.

“Well, you know what, Em? I couldn’t help myself when I saw you cozying up to him like he did nothing!” Emily opened her mouth to speak, but Olivia cut her off. “And, not for nothing, friend, if you didn’t think it was true somewhere in that brain of yours, you would’ve never kissed Gavin,” she snarled, letting her words cut straight through Emily’s heart.

Emily inhaled, trying to quell the sudden urge to punch her square in the face. “You’re truly fucked up,” she said in a surprisingly calm tone—one that even threw Olivia off guard. “How could you say that to me, knowing what I’ve been through all week?”

“I didn’t mean it that way,” Olivia replied, cautiously moving toward her. “I just think you’re in denial, Em. I think that you’re in denial about the way Dillon treats you, and I think you’re seriously in denial that you don’t feel something—even the littlest bit of something—for Gavin.”

A wounded cry escaped her throat. “I’m not in denial, Olivia. I love Dillon, and I believe him. Why is that so hard for you to understand?” Emily turned and walked toward her bedroom, stopping at her door. “I didn’t see the whole kiss. I saw exactly what Dillon said I did. That skank pulled him into her, and I turned around before he backed away. The only reason why I kissed Gavin was because I didn’t see the whole thing. I was mad. My emotions got the better of me when we got back here. That’s all—it’s nothing more.”

An uncomfortable silence descended throughout the apartment before Emily retreated into her room, sinking herself onto her bed. She had never felt so mentally bruised by the stinging of Olivia’s words. Pinching the bridge of her nose from the sudden headache pulsing through her skull, she tried to put her feelings in check. She couldn’t lose her best friend over all of this, and she refused to lose Dillon either. She hated the phrase “caught between a rock and a hard spot,” but that was exactly the way she felt. Two of the people she loved most in her life despised one another more so than ever before. Emily’s mind was whirling as the pain of the whole situation crushed in on her.

Twenty minutes later, with a subdued knock, Olivia peeked in the door. “Can I come in?”

Emily nodded.

Olivia sat on the bed. “I’m sorry, Emily. I shouldn’t have said what I did,” she whispered, tucking her blonde hair behind her ear, her eyes glassy with regret. “You’ve been through so much. I just want to see you happy.”

“I am happy, Liv. Please trust me when I say that. I just can’t have you act like that around him,” she said, sitting up. “You two will give me a nervous breakdown.”

After a very long minute of obvious deliberation, Olivia let out a heavy breath. “Okay—only for you because I love you to absolute fucking pieces—I won’t say another thing to him. You do realize how hard that will be for me, chick, right?”

“I do,” Emily said. “And that’s why I love you to absolute fucking pieces.” They leaned in and shared a tight hug. “I’m going to make sure he apologizes to you for what he said.”

Olivia let out a huffed laugh. “I don’t need his apology, Em. Besides, he’s wrong. I’m not a dyke. I’m a certified equal-opportunity lover. I like both male and female, darling.”

Shaking her head, Emily laughed.

Olivia stood up and walked to the door. “I cringe saying this—God, I fucking cringe…” She exhaled a breath and rolled her eyes. “But Dickhead—which I’m not giving up his nickname by the way—is right. Most of Bushwick isn’t a good neighborhood. Something else will come along. Just hang out—you’ll see.”

A faint smile played across Emily’s mouth. “Thank you. I’ll take both of your advice and wait it out.”

Olivia blew her a kiss and walked out of the room.

After calling Dillon and vehemently insisting that he apologize to Olivia, Emily attempted to go to sleep. She tossed uncomfortably in bed as her mind continually strayed back to Gavin. She tried to fight her emotions, reminding herself that she loved Dillon, but Gavin was embedding himself into her thoughts like a sneaky little parasite. His magnetic presence thickened the air she breathed when he was near her. His idea of inaugurating a friendship between them seemed impossible the more she went over it. There were too many dangerous variables floating around. She felt swallowed by the confusion of the feelings she had.

As her consciousness slowly drifted toward sleep, her mind tried to fight a bloody battle against what her body already knew. She wanted him, and she wanted him bad.

Throw guilt to the wind, it screamed at her. For tonight, at least her mind won the war over her body’s assault, deciding not to risk the possible destruction of her life.

But damn him and damn that kiss.


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