Chapter Eighteen

IT’S BEEN TWO WEEKS since I’ve heard from Dakota. She hasn’t reached out to me once since she slipped out of my bed in the middle of the night, nor has she answered either of my calls or the two texts I’ve sent. Maybe I’ve overdone it, bothering her too much when she obviously doesn’t want to talk, but I want to make sure she’s okay. No matter how many times I try to remind myself that that’s not my job anymore, my head just won’t listen. Or maybe it’s my heart, possibly both. I know Dakota well enough to know that when she needs her space, she will take it and no one can change that.

The unfamiliar part is that I’m not used to being the one she needs space from.

Since we decided to be friends I’ve seen Nora twice, but only spoken to her once. Friends without kissing. Friends don’t kiss and friends definitely don’t think about kissing.

I’m still working on that part. She hasn’t started to come around less; she’s just leaving earlier and I’m coming home later than I used to. I’ve been staying a little later at work to help Posey close. She’s been picking up so many of Jane’s shifts lately that I have a feeling she could use the help. She seems overwhelmed. I don’t want to be too pushy and probe too much into her life, but I’ve always been pretty good at reading people. We have become something close to friends during our long shifts together, and she’s been sharing more and more of her life with me while we scrub dishes and clean coffee grounds from every nook and cranny of Grind.

I’m enjoying the extra hours and her company. I’m lonely and soaking our conversations up like a sponge, like the details of her life somehow make me feel more involved in the wider world. She was born and raised here—a dyed-in-the-wool New Yorker, something millions of people in this city strive to imitate. Her family used to live in Queens, and when she was fifteen, her mom passed away and Lila and Posey moved to Brooklyn to live with their grandma.

It’s nice having someone to talk to about random stuff. It’s nice to hear about someone else’s life and opinions and thoughts when I don’t want to think about my own.

I don’t want to think about Dakota, and I don’t want to miss Nora. Am I a bad person for liking two people?

Really, though, I don’t know if I like Nora or if I’m just attracted to her. I don’t know enough about her to compare to my feelings for Nora . . .

I mean, Dakota.

Shit, I’m a mess.

Am I being too hard on myself by keeping my distance from both of them? I’ve loved Dakota for years; I know her inside and out. She’s my family. In my heart of hearts, she owns half the real estate.

Nora is another story; she’s wishy-washy and hot and cold, and undeniably sexy and flirtatious. I’m half-attracted, half-curious about her, and I keep having to remind myself that we killed our potential relationship before it ever had a chance to bloom into anything anyway, so I can’t sit around moping over losing something that wasn’t mine to begin with.

So it’s been two weeks of avoidance of the women in question: picking up later shifts at work, joining more study groups, or staying home and watching cooking shows with Tessa. She’s obsessed with them lately and they provide good background noise when I’m doing my schoolwork. I can pay just a little bit of attention to the shows, but I don’t care enough to have to give my full attention to them—and I’m not convinced that Tessa does either.

One night during Cupcake Wars, my phone buzzes on the leather couch and Hardin’s name lights up on my screen. Tessa’s eyes follow the noise and flash at the sight of his name. Her eyes dart back to the screen and she pulls her pouty bottom lip between her teeth.

She’s freaking miserable and I hate it. Hardin’s miserable, and he deserves it, but I still hate it. I don’t know what kind of mountain Hardin will have to move to earn her forgiveness, but I know damned well he would even build a mountain if he had to—a whole row of them with her face carved into them—before he would live his life without her.

That sort of desperation, that kind of burning, throbbing love—I haven’t known it.

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