Luanne had just packed the last of her books into a box marked for New Haven when she heard a knock on her door. She sighed and glanced at herself in the mirror before walking out of her bedroom. Her face was pale and her eyes were still puffy from all the crying she had done. The thought of losing Christian was, surprisingly, a distant second to her inability to realize the truth. Luanne had always prided herself on her good grades, her ability to work hard and achieve her goals. But she had learned a hard lesson here in London: book smarts would only get her so far. She was going to need something more if she actually wanted to survive in the world because people like Christian and people like Will weren’t anomalies of the human population. There were those out there who would play against her innocence and take advantage of her. And as much as she hated to have that kind of guard up, she now thought it was necessary.
“Who is it?” She asked, leaning against the door, half hoping it was Christian coming to apologize yet chastising herself for feeling that way.
“It’s Gavin. Where have you been?”
“Busy,” Luanne answered, closing her eyes in dread as she thought about the upcoming conversation. She wondered how long she could carry on this way before a neighbor complained about the random man standing in the hallway talking to a door.
“Can I come in?”
There was a long pause and Luanne waited to hear his footsteps retreating down the stairs. But she didn’t and she knew he was still right outside.
“You haven’t been answering any of my calls,” Gavin pointed out and Luanne sighed.
“I don’t want to see anybody right now, Gavin. Please, go away. I’ll call you later.”
“Um, no,” Gavin answered. “That’s not going to work for me.”
Luanne had to smile. “Please? I’m really not in the mood.”
“And I’m not in the mood to be ignored any longer. Open the door.”
Luanne cursed under her breath, something she had been doing a lot of lately, and cracked the door. “The doctors say I have tuberculosis. You shouldn’t come in.” She coughed, just for effect.
“Bull shit!” Gavin laughed and nudged his foot so she couldn’t close the door in his face. He could tell that she was upset about something. She looked as though she had been crying and he could see that she was wearing an oversized Yale t-shirt and leggings, something she probably had been in since the day before judging from all the wrinkles.
“Gavin, please just go.”
“Not until you give me a good reason,” he argued and she clenched her jaw in frustration. He had seen her do this while writing and it had always amused him. Her entire face would become distorted into a aggravated discomfort and, even though he had first thought it a rather unattractive expression, he now found it unbelievably adorable.
“Because I hate all men at the moment and I’m not responsible for what happens to you if you walk through that door.”
“Ahhh,” he tried not to smile. “Trouble in paradise?”
“I hate you,” Luanne snapped and turned to walk away. But Gavin was too quick for her and he pushed the door open, closing it behind him before she had time to throw him out.
“Tell me what happened,” he insisted.
“What’s the point? You probably already know why.”
“Did he cheat on you?”
“Yes!” Luanne nearly screamed, unable to decide how she felt about Gavin being able to figure it out so quickly. “I caught him with another girl in a restaurant. He tried to tell me that we had never decided to only date each other and that I had only assumed and…”
She broke down before she could finish the rest and Gavin wrapped his arms around her. “Hey, he’s not worth all this and you know it.”
“I know,” Luanne said, her face still against his chest. “And I’m not upset about losing him as much as I am about how much he used me.”
“What do you mean?”
“I should have seen it coming. You clearly did. Was I so naive that I couldn’t see through all his crap and smooth lines? I mean, I just let myself get carried away with all of that stupid flirting and I feel so helpless now and so, so…so incredibly stupid.”
“Luanne, you are one of the smartest girls I know.”
“Yet I just let myself get used by guys.”
“Has this happened before?” Gavin asked, rubbing her back. He hated seeing her like this. As glad as he was that Christian was gone, he couldn’t stand the thought of Luanne being so upset. She looked miserable. She sounded miserable. And someone with all her personality should never feel that way.
Luanne sighed and stepped away from him without looking him in the eye. He followed her to the couch and sat down next to her, placing a protective hand on her knee.
“You saw it happen before. With Will.”
Gavin immediately started to shake his head. “No. You cannot compare what happened with Will to this asshole.”
“And why not? I walked right into their trap, both times. Both times I thought I was getting something great out of it and I only ended up hurting myself. And others,” she added quietly. “Now I’m just convinced that all men…”
“First, Will is crazy,” Gavin interrupted her before she could continue. “As in certifiably insane. Mix that with how smart he is and you have an instant disaster on your hands. He used a lot of people, Luanne, and long before you came along. You were just the unfortunate one who crashed with him when he fell.”
Luanne blinked at him. He clearly hadn’t made her feel any better.
“And Christian has most likely been doing this to girls all his life,” he continued. “They had both perfected their games and you can’t think that all men are going to hurt you like that. And you certainly can’t blame yourself for falling for someone.”
“Maybe it’s my innocence that attracts these guys?” Luanne asked, hoping they could reach some sort of explanation for all of this.
“I wouldn’t call you innocent. You may not have the experience that some other people your age have, but you’ve got a pretty clear view of the world.”
“I used to think so,” Luanne said dejectedly.
Gavin smiled. “You’ve just made some unlucky choices, that’s all. There’s going to be someone out there who will turn everything around for you. You’ll see.”
“At this rate, I won’t find him until I’m 50.”
Gavin laughed and shook his head. “He might be closer than he seems. Now, care to explain the boxes stacked in your living room?”
Luanne shook her head. “I’m done with London. I’m going back to New Haven.”
“I was afraid of that,” he said and sighed. He stood up and walked over to one of the larger boxes. Without hesitation, he ripped through the tape and opened the top.
“What are you doing?” Luanne demanded, jumping up and running over to him.
“Saving you from making another bad decision.”
“Gavin, you aren’t going to change my mind about this. Everywhere I go, I’ll be reminded of Christian and I just don’t think I can get over that. It’s not worth it to stay here and be miserable.”
“Look, Luanne, I can see why you ran away from Will and what happened with him. You needed to be with your family. But running away from Christian? I thought you were stronger than that.”
“It’s not like I’m running away from everything. I’m going back to Yale.”
Gavin stared at her and wondered if he should save his lecture and just let her leave or if he should fight for her. She wouldn’t like listening to him and she may not actually believe that he was on her side, but few people had stood with Luanne in her corner before and Gavin wasn’t in the mood to have his heart broken if she left. “I’m not going to lie to you, it’s probably going to hurt a lot more if you stay in London. But once you truly get over him, you can have some amazing times here. You came here to experience new things. And, yes, one of those things ended up hurting. But you shouldn’t run away from everything else, all the other possibilities.”
Luanne put her hands on her hips and glared at him. “Why do you have to be so sensible all the time?”
Gavin laughed, relieved that she was seeing some reason. “One of us should be, don’t you think?”
She finally grinned at him. “I suppose so.”
“So can I help you unpack?”
“No,” she answered quickly. “I haven’t made up my mind yet.”
“Can I temp you with some pizza? We can have it delivered. Just stay in and watch a movie.”
“I could go for that,” she said with a smile.
Gavin smiled back and then nodded before walking over to her phone and finding the number for pizza delivery. He placed his order and then joined Luanne in the kitchen where she was opening a bottle of wine. He watched as she struggled with the cork and then finally reached over to help her.
“I don’t deserve you, you know?” She asked, relinquishing the bottle.
“Yes you do,” Gavin answered quickly, not even needing to think about it.
“You’ve been such a good friend all year and,” she hesitated, “well, thank you. For everything.”
“You’re welcome. And I know it may seem like some tough love from me right now, but I really do hate to see you hurt. It’s a little heartbreaking, actually.”
He poured the wine and then handed her a glass before looking at her. She was staring at him with a curious expression.
“I guess I would feel the same way if I saw you hurt,” she finally agreed.
“Well, sure. You’re probably the best friend I have in this city.”
Gavin nodded and took a sip of his wine. “You are the best thing I have going in this city, Luanne. Probably the best thing in my life.”
“Me?” She laughed in disbelief. “You’re exaggerating.”
“No, I’m not.”
“But, why?” She was staring at him, her glass in her hand. He couldn’t read her expression but looked deep into her eyes.
“Like I said, you can’t blame yourself for falling for someone. I knew that you had a boyfriend but I fell for you anyway and, rather quickly, you became the highlight of my day, the thing I looked forward to the most.”
Luanne was shocked. She set her glass on the counter for fear of dropping it and looked at Gavin’s honest face. His brown eyes were telling the truth yet he wasn’t looking at her any different than he had been for the last four months. Had she missed this too?
“Well, that’s just great,” she said, putting her hands on her hips. “Something else I missed while I was busy playing make-believe with Christian.”
Gavin smiled. “I was wondering why you hadn’t caught on.”
“Why didn’t you tell me sooner?”
“It wasn’t my place. You were head over heels for that guy and I didn’t want to make things awkward between us.”
“But now that I’m single you don’t mind the awkwardness?”
Gavin laughed again. “Not as much. I mean, who else are you going to hang out with? I’m now officially the best friend you have in this city, remember?”
Luanne made a face at him but couldn’t hide her smile. He smiled back and winked at her, causing her to blush bright red.
“Don’t what?” He asked, raising his eyebrows suggestively.
“That! Don’t do that. I’m not in the mood.”
“Then why are you smiling?”
Luanne giggled and pushed at his arm. “I’m not,” she insisted.
“You are,” he argued and reached for her waist, gently pulling himself closer to her. Her eyes lowered and Gavin had to smile. She was nervous but so was he. It had been a while since he had kissed a girl yet the desire to do so had never been this strong. He carefully tilted her chin upward and forced her to meet his gaze.
“I have completely fallen for you, Luanne. And I don’t want anything more from you than for you to love me in return. I know that’s not going to happen tonight, but I hope that it will one day. So we’ll take it slow and you will see that I am not psychotic and that I am 100 percent faithful.”
Luanne grinned up at him but didn’t say a word. She couldn’t think of anything witty to say, anything that she thought would please him. It all seemed so irrelevant when it came to Gavin. She knew he wouldn’t want her to do anything than what was absolutely natural.
Gavin smiled back and then lowered his face to hers. Their lips met and he kissed her softly, rejoicing when she didn’t pull away. With every second that passed, his confidence grew and before he knew it, her arms were around his neck, her hands tangled in his hair. They kissed and kissed, for how long he didn’t know, but he made sure not to let his hands move from her back, not to let his body crush against hers. He just enjoyed her lips against his and their breaths mingling.
A knock at the door interrupted them and both pulled apart unwillingly.
“Pizza is here,” Luanne said awkwardly and Gavin smiled.
“That was the best first kiss I have ever had,” he told her, not letting the moment go by unacknowledged.
Luanne smiled brilliantly at him and blushed from head to toe. “Me too,” she whispered and then looked at the ground, not knowing what else to do. The butterflies she had felt when she was with Christian were returning, only they didn’t flutter in relationship to the proximity of Gavin, the idea that someone like him could care about her. They fluttered for a different reason now. A reason that she had not felt with Christian.
Luanne watched as Gavin walked to the door and paid for the pizzas. He seemed so at ease, even after his confession, that she couldn’t help feeling comfortable as well. Maybe, she thought to herself, this is what love is actually supposed to feel like. But could it be possible that she had fallen for her best friend without realizing it? She wouldn’t put it past herself. After all, she didn’t have the best track record when it came to figuring out men or her feelings about them. But it looked like this time her lack of perception wasn’t going to spit in her face.
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