Dazed Page 4

It\s just the two of us sitting outside now. I\m sipping on the chocolate chai tea and I\m rather enjoying it. Xander called River and he and Dahlia stepped inside to take the call. River decided to quit the band just before they got married and Xander is on the road without him. I\m sure it must be strange. The two of them worked together for a long time. From what I overheard, the tour has kicked off with a bang and things are going well. I raise my head and breathe in the cool winter nighttime air.

’’The weather is gorgeous in California. I don\ know how anyone could move away after living here,’’ he says.

’’I agree. Did you always live in New York City?’’

’’Yes. I grew up in Manhattan with my father and once I was on my own I lived in a shithole and then a place that felt more like a frat house,’’ he says.

I raise an eyebrow and wonder why he chose to live that way.

’’It wasn\ that bad, but let\s just say living on my own wasn\ as easy as I thought. And moving home wasn\ an option.’’

’’Did your dad move away? My parents retired to Florida once I left for college and moving there wasn\ as appealing as staying in California.’’

’’No, he didn\ . Once I left, I didn\ want to ask my parents for money and I couldn\ afford to get my own place, so I lived with roommates.’’

He pours a small amount of tea in his coffee cup. ’’Smells like chocolate.’’

’’It is. Chocolate Chai.’’

His lips tilt up as he sets the cup down.

’’You\ e not going to try it?’’ I ask.

His gaze brightens as he picks up one of the cupcakes that we were all too full to eat. ’’I think I\ll stick to this kind of chocolate.’’ He cuts it in half, then edges his chair closer to mine. ’’I picked these because the menu said it was made with Madagascar Bourbon vanilla.’’

I take from his comment that it\s the alcohol, not the actual vanilla, that persuaded him to make his purchase and that makes me laugh.

’’Try it.’’ He lifts half of it and hands it to me.

’’Oh, I love those cupcakes. But, really, I\m just too full right now.’’

I watch as he eats his piece and feel my breathing pick up speed. I swear I can almost taste the creamy center as he swallows.

He smiles at me as he takes his next bite.

I feel an ache that centers itself right between my legs and I need to focus on something else. ’’So, tell me, what was so bad about where you lived?’’

He leans back in his chair. ’’Like I said, after college I didn\ have a lot of money. So I lived in a huge old Brooklyn warehouse with five other guys for $2,400 a month. The place was cheap with six of us splitting the rent, but it always felt like six families lived there and quickly had to evacuate clothes were all over the floor, pizza boxes and Chinese takeout containers littered the counters, and empty beer cans were arranged in a triangle on the kitchen table.’’

’’Why is that?’’ I ask, trying not to focus on his body.

’’It was our pool table,’’ he shrugs.

I laugh. ’’That\s innovative. Where did you move after that?’’

’’Once I took the modeling contract, I moved into the Windham Modeling Agency\s apartment. It was much nicer a high-rise just outside of Chinatown. It was much cleaner and had maid service, but dudes were floating in and out constantly. It was six bedrooms and a central room with a large kitchen and living room. We had to bunk together, usually only two of us, sometimes three, to a room. A model signed by the agency years before was the super but he was really our house manager. He was a little over the top with keeping the apartment in order. That place was the complete opposite of my apartment in Brooklyn. But it worked at the time.’’

I raise a brow. ’’That\s an awful lot of roommates.’’ The thought of that many people living together horrifies me.

He nods. ’’It was. Do you have a roommate?’’

I laugh. ’’No, I\m not exactly the easiest person to live with.’’

’’No?’’

I laugh again. ’’Just ask Dahlia about me.’’

An almost sneaky smile forms on his lips. ’’I think I might just have to do that.’’

Wrapping my yoga jacket around me, I reluctantly stand. ’’Well, I really need to get going. It\s late and I still have to drive back.’’

Jagger looks at the watch on his right wrist. It has a battered large black rubber band with all kinds of buttons and displays. He raises a brow. ’’It\s almost midnight. You\ e not going to turn into a pumpkin are you?’’

I smirk and having caught a rhythm with his humor, I give it right back. ’’Wrong fairy tale. That\s Cinderella, not Alice in Wonderland.’’

’’Shit, you\ e right.’’ He brings his palm to his forehead. ’’What am I thinking? What about you? Where do you live? Not the rabbit\s hole and not a carriage, I assume.’’

I giggle. Yes, Aerie Daniels, the girl who doesn\ have a funny bone in her body, giggles. What\s wrong with me? ’’No, I don\ live in a hole or a carriage, but I live in Laguna Beach and it\s like wonderland.’’

’’So do you recommend the beach over LA? I need to start looking for a place.’’

’’Well not so much the beach, just the town.’’

’’You don\ like the beach?’’

’’No, not really.’’

’’Hmmm . . .’’ He\s quiet and it seems as if he\s trying to process what I just said.

’’The town is just so full of life. It\s quaint with so many art galleries and boutiques. The bars and restaurants are nice too. The hills have great views and the homes on the bluffs over the ocean on the south side are incredible. I live near town and it\s a short drive to work. Sometimes the traffic is bad, but nothing like if I had to drive to LA. And Laguna is just a really artsy and very liberal place to live.’’

’’So it\s your l\endroit que vous aimez?’’

I pause for a moment, lost in his eyes. ’’Yes, I never thought of it that way, but I guess it is.’’

He sips a beer, having moved on from coffee, and I watch the way the cool liquid flows down his throat. I\ve never noticed how se*y a man can look lifting a Heineken to his lips. ’’I\ll have to check Laguna out,’’ he says lowering his bottle.

’’Yes, you should. I just can\ stand it here. It\s too crazy.’’

’’That makes sense.’’

’’What does?’’

’’That you wouldn\ like hectic city living.’’

I push my chair in. ’’I\ll have you know, I grew up in Chicago.’’

He scratches his head. ’’Now, that surprises me.’’

’’You know what surprises me?’’

He rises from his chair and steps toward me, twirling a piece of hair that has fallen lose from my braid around his finger before tucking it behind my ear. His mouth quirks up into an insanely smoldering grin. ’’No. Please tell me though.’’

My stomach flutters and I don\ know why. I try to ignore it, but it won\ stop. ’’That you drive Orange Julius.’’

He laughs, tilting his head back and forth only making him all the se*ier. And in this moment, right here, watching this beautiful man, I can tell that he\s a free spirit, very much like my best friend. I can see why River, Dahlia, and Jagger, get along so well. They are all so much alike. I\m definitely the odd man out.

’’Orange Julius?’’ he questions.

’’That was what they named the car like yours in The Fast and the Furious once it got a makeover.’’

’’How do you know that?’’ he asks still laughing.

’’I have a thing for those movies and happened to read a number of articles about the cars.’’

’’I\m sorry. But that is the funniest thing I\ve heard in a while. I love that name. Do the other cars have names?’’

’’What\s so funny?’’ River calls from the door.

Jagger holds his stomach. ’’My need for speed.’’ He guffaws.

River raises a brow.

’’Nothing, nothing,’’ he says. ’’What are you two up to in there?’’

’’Dahlia\s hand is throbbing so I gave her some Tylenol and she\s sitting at the counter willing the pills to be absorbed through osmosis.’’

’’I was just going in to say goodbye. I\ll see what I can do.’’ I hurry past Jagger as I feel the heat rising up my throat, but this time it\s not from anger.

Once I\ve convinced Dahlia that she can\ break apart capsules and she\s going to have to put on her big girl panties and swallow them whole, I say my goodbyes to her and River and leave them near the sink, where she\s waiting to see if she\s going to throw up from swallowing the pills. It\s not that I\m heartless, but I lived with her for four years I\ve experienced her phobia of pill swallowing many times and I\m confident she\ll be fine.

Jagger walks me to the door, opening it and ushering me forward. For the first time all night I notice his eyes scanning my silhouette and my heart pitter-patters. I spin around, stopping a little too close, and attempt to extend my arm. ’’Jagger Kennedy, it was a pleasure meeting you.’’

He takes my hand, brings it to his lips and kisses it. ’’Alice, I assure you the pleasure was all mine.’’

The tilt of his head, the look in his eyes, the feel of his lips on my skin it all makes my stomach flutter and I can\ stop the wide grin from spreading across my face. A buzzing hums within me and I think it\s my heart beating way too fast. I clutch the railing and take the steps cautiously, slowly. I get to my car and notice the oil slick is gone. When I turn around to ask about it, he\s not there. I click my key fob and just as I\m about to open my door, he calls from the top of the stairs. ’’Alice, wait, you forgot something.’’ He strides down the stairs and extends his left arm, handing me a brown lunch bag. I realize he must be a lefty like me.

’’Do I want to know what\s in it?’’

He\s standing close enough that I can smell him, and he smells like lavender and sage. It\s better than anything I\ve ever smelled.

I am rewarded with his bright white smile. ’’How about you open it when you get home and tell me if you do?’’

I nod. He doesn\ move away. He\s standing so close. Moments of silence pass until he steps back and opens my door for me. Once I\m settled in my seat he hands me my seat belt and I buckle myself in. He steps back and shoves his hands in his pockets and I notice he\s biting his lip. I also realize I\m doing the same. With the car in reverse, I roll my window down and point to his car in front of me. ’’I really do think your car is cool.’’

The lights from the driveway hit him, highlighting his good looks, but my gaze is drawn to his eyes. ’’What?’’ I ask, catching his stare. His head drops, but his eyes lift. The look can only be described as hot. And I never, ever, call a guy hot. Well, on occasion I have, but only when I\ve been drinking.

’’For a sixteen year old. You forgot to say I think your car is cool for a sixteen year old.’’

’’No, I didn\ forget. It really is just cool.’’

I start to roll my window up and he steps forward. ’’Aerie, wait. I completely forgot why I was so excited to meet you.’’ And I don\ fail to notice it\s the first time he\s used my real name all night.

’’Oh, that\s right. River did say that.’’

He leans down and braces his hands on the door. Again he is so close. I can smell his unbelievable scent. I can see how his dark hair shines in the moonlight. I notice the fullness of his lips I could kiss him if I wanted.

’’Do you think I could take you out to lunch tomorrow? Later next month I\ll be auditioning for the role of your uncle in the movie No Led Zeppelin and I\d love to pick your brain.’’

And just like that my stomach somersaults. But this time it\s not fluttering, it\s falling.

Chapter 3

Story of My Life

In a hopeless effort to will the memories away, my fingers grip the steering wheel so tightly my knuckles turn white. Although the sky is clear, my mind is anything but. And, tonight of all nights, the traffic is light and I exit the 405 in no time. However, instead of taking my usual right, I go left and head south. I\m not in a hurry to get home and be alone, but why I head this way I don\ know. As I drive through this small sliver of California that I usually avoid, I can\ help but allow Levi James to seize my mind. He was the first boy I ever loved, the boy I gave my virginity to, the boy who took away my faith in men, and the one who stole the precious window of time I had left with my uncle.

Tonight was unlike anything I\ve felt for a long time, if ever. But Jagger Kennedy wasn\ interested in me he wanted something from me. When he asked if I would have lunch with him, I should have said no, but I couldn\ . A small part of me wanted to believe he was sincere. So I said I\d think about it and took my foot off the brake. I needed to leave. I glanced at him as he walked back up the steps. He stopped on the landing and with his hands in his pockets he watched me. He looked sincere or maybe that is just what I wanted to believe.

Pulling over near the shore on the south bluff, I stare out into the water thinking about how I dislike the beach and yet I never used to mind it. Why do things bother me so much now how the sand that gets in my clothes is annoying, the wind that batters my hair is always distracting, and the jellyfish I have to sidestep are no longer wonders of beauty but hideous creatures. When I was younger I loved all of those things. Even before I followed Dahlia to Laguna, I had spent many days here. My uncle\s house was hidden away on the bluff and summer after summer this beach had been our playground. My uncle wasn\ married and he didn\ have any children, so I was like the daughter he never had. My parents didn\ go on vacation they wouldn\ ever leave work long enough but my uncle did, and he took me with him. We frolicked on the beach, he took me into LA, and he showed me all of California. And then before returning to Chicago, he\d fly us anywhere I wanted to go Hawaii, London, Milan, and even Greece.


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