Until We're More(2)

By: Cindi Madsen


I didn’t have many friendships, and I couldn’t risk messing up ours unless he felt the same. Problem was, Liam had never been what you’d call forthcoming with the emotions, and I debated the best way to test the waters, while also being terrified of what I’d discover if I actually got brave enough to dip in a toe.

One night he went to give me a goodbye peck on the cheek, the way he’d done dozens of times through the years. (Back in high school, I was the sole proprietor of the mushy farewells, but eventually he began reciprocating.) My daydreams got tangled up with real life, and in an uncharacteristic moment of impulsivity, I turned my head so that our mouths would line up instead. Last second, I came to my senses—with a side of chickening out—and he caught the corner of my lips.

I froze, my heart bruising my ribs with every too-strong, too-fast beat.

Visions of him pulling me closer for a purposeful, square-on-the-mouth kiss flashed through my brain as a sizzle worked its way through my veins.

He shook his head, a hint of confusion in his features. Then he gestured to the swollen, purplish-blue eye he’d gotten from a sparring session gone too far. “Sorry, my depth perception must be off.”

He backed away, as if he needed to ensure no more accidental brushing ensued, and I pretended that my squashed hope wasn’t twitching like a dying bug.

In order to keep myself from screwing up our relationship, I’d resorted to drastic measures. Not that I was testing him or anything, because an amazing job opportunity had come up, and in a lot of ways, it seemed like the escape I’d been looking for. If it hadn’t been for Liam, I would’ve probably put more space between my toxic family and me the second I graduated high school. So when I’d mentioned the job and told him it included having to relocate to Denver, I’d watched his face, hoping to see anything that might lead me to believe his feelings ran deeper. I could stay for more, but I couldn’t keep waiting and hoping and wrecking my career goals and social life on something that’d never happen.

Seriously, do you have any idea how hard it is to date when you have a ginormous, overprotective best friend? The few guys who’d actually hit on me ran in the other direction once they met Liam.

Instead of saying he didn’t want me living that far away, Liam told me a fresh start would be good for me and that the job sounded perfect, and the fact that he was so blasé about it made it clear I needed some space before I went and did something that’d ruin everything. And the time away had been good for me. I’d grown a lot over the last six months. I’d learned how to be bolder—although I was still working on that, particularly when it came to my job—and how to make new friends.

It gave me a chance to attempt to date and experience what it was like to spend time with people other than Liam.

Naturally, the move wasn’t without a downside or two. I occasionally missed the beach and the MMA gym and even my dysfunctional family, although that was a slippery, complicated slope. While the distance erected a natural barrier, I’d feel bad I wasn’t there for my mom the way I should be, tell myself that maybe things would be better now that we’d had space, and finally answer one of her calls. Before I could fully get out the words “Hi, Mom,” I’d be wrapped up in her net and end up sending money to placate her, as well as my guilt.

As for the number one con, though, the one that surpassed them all…?

He was standing in the center of the caged-off rectangle, still hammering out fighting drills.

What if he’s not excited? What if he’s moved on and is Mr. Popular now, so many friends he doesn’t have time for me? Even in my head that didn’t seem right, not because he couldn’t be a local celebrity with a nonstop social life but because it so wasn’t him.

For the first time since I’d asked—i.e. practically begged—for my boss to add me to the team that would be opening a branch here, doubt over my decision crept in. Not great, since I already had enough doubt I could pull off showing the marketing firm I worked for that I was managerial material.

I have six weeks to prove that I’d be a great manager, and that I’m an asset to whatever team I’m on.

Six weeks to enjoy San Diego and spend as much time as possible with Liam—without falling for him all over again and making things weird. Again.

No big deal. I’m the picture of self-control.

Just ask that box of doughnuts I plowed through on my drive halfway across the country. Okay, so I’d meant to only eat a couple, but that was different. Doughnuts obviously loved me back.