Where She's Supposed to Be

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic


Willow is a recent college graduate with a depressing past. Following her college graduation, she heads to a local bar for a drink with her two best friends, Autumn and Jamison. At the bar that
night, a mysterious secret admirer sets his eyes on Willow. Little does she know, drama, lust, lies, and love are about to consume her when Jamison drops a bombshell on her. What does Jamison tell
Willow? Will their friendship ever be the same? What does the secret admirer want? What is he hiding? Read "Where She's Supposed to Be" to find out!


 Chapter 1: The Graduation

Willow stands in her bathroom, staring at her reflection in the mirror. She takes a deep breath and grins as she places her dark purple graduation cap on her head. Her long, auburn hair falls in neat curls down her slender back.

“Willow! It’s almost time to go!” Willows best friend and roommate, Autumn, calls to her from the other room. Willow takes one last glance in the mirror before retreating out the door, “Hey there, Miss Chemist!” Autumn smiles, “Your hair looks amazing!”

“Thanks, love,” Willow giggles, “Are you ready to go?”

“You know it! I was born ready!” The two friends link arms and leave their apartment with wide grins on their faces.

Five short minutes later, Willow and Autumn arrive at the Rocky Mountain University arena, sporting their purple graduation gowns and black sashes. The vast Rocky Mountains are picture perfect behind the arena. Their peaks are still decorated with snow. Excitement pulses through the air with intense energy as the two best friends walk through the doors of the arena. Students stand in small groups anxiously chatting about the commencement.

“Willow! Hey!” A voice from behind Willow calls to her. She turns to see her friend Jamison quickly approaching. Autumn jabs willow in the ribs with her elbow while winking slyly and chuckling beneath her breath. Willow jokingly rolls her large, emerald green eyes at Autumn.

Jamison and Willow met their first year at Rocky Mountain University in freshman chemistry. They have been best friends and lab partners in all their courses ever since. It’s no secret that Jamison is in love with Willow, even though he always denies it.

“Hey, Jamison!” Willow smiles. Jamison wraps Willow in a tight hug, pressing her face softly into his chest.

“You look beautiful as always,” Jamison says sweetly as he smiles down at her. He combs a hand through his wavy, light brown hair. Willow blushes. Autumn notices and shoots her a mischievous grin.

“Thanks, Jamison,” she looks into his deep, baby blue eyes, “I can’t believe we’re here! It’s crazy how fast these four years have flown by.”

“I know! In just a few hours we’ll officially be chemists!”

Autumn clears her throat, startling Jamison.

“Oh! Hey, Autumn! I didn’t notice you were there.”

“I know I’m short, but I’m not that short!” Autumn replies sarcastically, “C’mere and give me a hug, Jamison!” He obliges, laughing to himself.

There is a sudden shift in the crowd of students surrounding the three friends.

“Oh! Everyone is starting to line up! Here we go, guys!” Autumn exclaims, bouncing up and down, giddy with excitement.

Willow, Jamison and Autumn take their place in line, beaming with happiness. The doors to the arena open wide. At the far end, a stage embellished with purple, black and white decorations comes into view. The floor is covered in hundreds of chairs for the soon to be graduates. The stands are filled with friends, and family, eager to see their loved ones graduate. The students being to pour in to the arena, talking their assigned seats while the commencement music pumps through the speakers.

Soon the students are all seated and the commencement is underway. Willow zones out as she watches rows of students approach the stage and walk across it to receive their diplomas. She begins to reflect on the past four years: all that has happened, how much she has persevered and overcome countless obstacles, how she landed her dream job, and ultimately, how much she has grown.

Willow snaps back to reality as she notices her row is beginning to stand. She follows suit while throwing a smile over her shoulder to her two best friends standing beside her. She begins to follow the line of students in front of her to the stage. A swarm of butterflies dances in her stomach. She calmly walks to the stage, takes a deep breath, and hears her name. 

“Willow Rae Scott. Bachelors of Science in Chemistry.” Willow excitedly and confidently strides across the stage, shaking hands with the dean and the president of the University who hands her a diploma. Tears press against the back of her eyes, begging to be released. She smiles as she hears the names of her closest friends behind recited behind her.

“Autumn Marie Johnson. Bachelors of Science in Psychology. Jamison Grey Smith. Bachelors of Science in Chemistry.”

Willow lets out a breath she didn’t realize she was holding as she walks back to her seat. Autumn and Jamison follow closely behind her and sit down, grinning from ear to ear.

After what feels like an eternity, the president of the university approaches the microphone and says, “It is an honor and a privilege to present you the Rock Mountain University Class of 2018! You may now move your tassel to the left of your cap. Congratulations!” Cheers and applause erupt through the arena. Willow stands and throws her arms around Jamison and Autumn.

“I couldn’t have done this without you guys. Since my parents died my sophomore year, you were all I had. You were my rock. You kept me going. You’re my family now,” tears pour from willow’s eyes as she holds her friends close, “I love you both.” Jamison and Autumn tighten their grip around her.

“We love you too, Willow,” Jamison replies, hiding a secret grin.

“So much,” Autumn chimes in, “Now let’s get out of here and celebrate!”

Willow releases her friends and hooks her arms with theirs. The three of them leave the arena arm in arm with oversized grins on their faces.

 

Chapter 2: The Conflict

“Hey, Jamison. We’re going to head back to the apartment and change. We’re thinking of going out around seven. Do you want to meet us at our apartment or at the bar?” Questions Autumn as the three of them step out into the May sunshine.

“I can just meet you at the bar. I will get us a table.” Jamison replies coolly.

“Sounds good! See you there!” Autumn and Willow wave to Jamison and head the other way to their apartment.

Autumn glances around, taking one last look at the grand buildings where she spent the last four years pursuing her dream job. She takes in the beautiful greenery of the springtime trees and the bold Rocky Mountains in the background.

“I wonder when he’s going to tell you,” Autumn articulates, interrupting Willow’s train of thought.

“Tell me what?” Willow questions with a hint of surprise buried in her voice.

“Come on, Willow. You know exactly what I’m talking about.”

“What?”

“That Jamison is totally in love with you! He always has been,” Autumn states confidently.

“He is not in love with me, Autumn.”

“Girl, he worships the ground you walk on.”

“I really don’t think that’s true. And even if it were, we can’t be together. He’s leaving in a month for graduate school. I can’t do long distance. Plus, I don’t think of him like that.”

“You keep telling yourself that, Willow. He loves you and you know it. And I think you have feelings for him too.”

Willow rolls her eyes as she unlocks the front door of their apartment and responds, “Whatever, Autumn.” The two girls walk into the apartment and slip off their heels. Willow heads to her room.

“I love you, Willow!”

Willow sighs, “I love you too, Autumn. Even if you are a huge pain in my ass sometimes.” They giggle as Willow enters her room and gently shuts the door behind her. She flops down on her bed, her mind racing.

Does Jamison really love me? If he does, what does this mean for us? Do I even feel the same way? He’s my best friend. I don’t want to ruin that. He and Autumn are all I have left. Ugh.

Willow sighs and stands.

What should I wear tonight? She walks to her closest and pulls open the doors. Ah-ha! Perfect! She picks out a pair of distressed, black skinny jeans and a tight, red sweater with shoulder cutouts. She yanks off her graduation robe and dress and slips on the outfit she picked out. She slides on a pair of black ankle booties and heads to the bathroom. She lifts her mother’s necklace off the bathroom counter. The white gold pendent sparkles in the soft lighting. Willow slips the necklace over her head. The pendent falls and settles between her breasts. The necklace was a gift from her father to her mother on their wedding day. Willow holds the diamond between her fingers and sighs. Oh, mom. I wish you were here. She pulls herself together and heads out to the kitchen.

“Damn, girl! Who are you trying to impress?” Autumn chuckles. Willow playfully shoves her.

“Oh, shut up,” Giggles Willow.

“Anyway, I thought we could pregame!” Autumn exclaims as she holds a bottle of pink champagne in the air.

“Always the life of the party, aren’t you?”

“You know it! Will you grab some champagne flutes out of the cupboard for me, please? Thanks, Willow!” Willow obeys as Autumn prepares to open the bottle of bubbly.

“POP!” The cork shoots out of the champagne bottle and crashes into the wall with a thud.

“Woo-hoo!” Shrieks Autumn as she pours herself and Willow a glass of champagne. She hands Willow her glass. They sit on stools at the pub style dining room table, “Cheers to working our asses off and finally getting that degree!”

“Cheers!” Willow clinks her glass with Autumn. They both take a drink of the sweet, bubbly, liquid, “Mmm.” Willow’s face turns more solemn as they sit in silence, continuing to sip on their drinks.

“Hey, what’s wrong?” Autumn questions sincerely.

“I just wish my parents were here,” Willow rubs her pointer finger along the rim of her glass.

“Oh, Willow. They would be so proud of you. You worked so hard these past four years. You’ve grown into such an amazing woman,” Autumn takes Willow’s free hand, “You’re smart, hardworking, kind and determined. Not to mention absolutely beautiful! Look at all you’ve accomplished in your time here. You got your first research publication, you presented that research several times at multiple conferences, you graduated with honors and you landed your dream job doing environmental chemistry for the EPA. I know that your parents are looking down on you smiling right now filled with pride and joy for their baby girl. And they would want you to enjoy tonight. You deserve it.” Willow stands and wraps Autumn in a warm embrace, fighting back tears.

“Thanks, Autumn. You always know how to make me feel better. And you’re right, I do deserve to have fun tonight!” Willow returns to her chair, “I’ve also been thinking about what you said after graduation.”
“Oh, really?” Autumn sits up straighter in her chair, her eyes wide with curiosity, “Do tell!”

“Well, I’m still really confused, but maybe I do feel something for Jamison. I just don’t think it would work out with him being half way across the country. It’s hard enough knowing he’ll be that far away as my best friend, let alone my boyfriend.”

“I think if you want him, you need to tell him and you need to go for it. I don’t want you to look back in ten years and be filled with regret. But if you don’t know what you want right now, that’s OK too. Just play it by ear for a little while.”

“Thanks, Autumn. You’re the best.”

“Oh, I know,” Autumn smirks as she dramatically throws her long, curly blond hair over her shoulder. The two best friends erupt with laughter as they polish off their glasses of champagne.

“Well, it’s 6:45. Should we start walking to the bar?” Willow asks as she peers at the clock on the wall.

“Let’s do it!”

Autumn and Willow arrive at the bar shortly after 6. Autumn holds open the door to the bar and walks in after Willow. The bar is filled with new graduates drinking, talking and celebrating. Jamison’s face lights up as he notices Willow and Autumn through the sea of people. He waves to them and they head to his table when they see his signal. He stands as they approach and gives each of them a brief hug before they sit down.

Damn, he looks good in flannel. Why am I just realizing how good he looks in red?

“Earth to Willow!” Autumn snaps her fingers in front of Willow’s face.

“Oh, sorry,” She breaks out of the trance she was in, “I zoned out for a minute.” She laughs nervously.

“Mhm,” Autumn eyeballs her friend suspiciously, “Anyway, I was asking what you wanted to drink.”

“Oh! I’ll have a Moscow mule, please. Thanks, love!”

“Jamison? What are you drinking tonight?” Autumn turns to look at him.

“I’ll have a whiskey and coke, please. Jack Daniels. Thanks, Autumn.”

“No problem guys! I’ll be right back.” Autumn stands and before she turns to leave, winks at Willow.

“So, Willow. When is your first day at the new job?
 Jamison smiles sweetly.

“I start Monday!”

“That’s awesome! I’m really happy for you, Willow. You got your dream job. You deserve it.”

“Aww, thanks, Jamison. That means a lot,” Willow looks thoughtfully at Jamison, “How are you feeling about grad school? Are you ready to move to Berkeley?”

“I’m excited, but I’m also extremely nervous. Colorado has always been my home. It’s scary moving so far away all by myself. But I’m really excited to start my research and begin working on my PhD.”

“You’re going to do great, Jamison. You’re amazing. You were born for this,” Willows eyes fall to her hands folded in her lab beneath the table, “but I’m going to miss you like crazy.”

Jamison shifts uncomfortably in his chair, “I’m going to miss you too, Willow. You have no idea,” he pauses, “there’s um, there’s actually something I...”

“Here are your drinks, guys! One Jack and Coke for you, my friend, and one Moscow mule for the lady!” Autumn plops down in her seat after handing out the drinks. Willow looks into Jamison’s eyes, searching them. He clears his throat.

“Am I interrupting something?” Autumn questions them awkwardly.

“Not at all! We were just catching up,” Jamison replies quickly.

Autumn pauses, shifting her eyes between her two friends, then proceeds, “OK, then. If you say so. Anyway, Willow. There’s a guy at the bar who was totally checking you out.”

“Me? Who? Why?” Willow stutters. Autumn turns to point out the secret admirer.

“Oh shit. Don’t look. He’s coming over here,” Autumn swiftly turns back to face the others. She takes a fleeting glance at Jamison who leans back in his chair, his face ashen. He uneasily plays with his hands in his lap.

The secret admirer appears next to Willow. His jet-black hair is neatly styled and his piercing, dark brown eyes meet Willow’s as she turns to look at him.

Holy shit. Willow’s mouth drops open as she drinks in the man in front of her. Her pupils dilate.

“Hey there, beautiful. I’m Gage,” he holds out his hand.

“I’m Willow,” she takes his large, smooth hand in hers and shakes it, “to what do I owe the pleasure?”

Gage smiles and motions toward the empty chair at the table, “may I?”

“Be my guest,” Willow smiles flirtatiously.

Gage pulls off his leather jacket, revealing his large muscles and an ornate tattoo spreading from his right elbow to his wrist, “it looks like you’re almost out.” He points to Willow’s glass.

“Looks like it.”

“I overheard your friend ordering a Moscow mule and a Jack and Coke. I wasn’t sure what your drink was so I got both.” Gage sets the drinks down on the table before Willow.

“I’ll have the Moscow mule. Thanks so much,” she replies.

“It’s my pleasure,” Gage smirks. A dazzling twinkle appears in his eyes.

Jamison violently slides his chair back, startling the others. He downs his drink and heads for the exit. He angrily throws open the doors and storms out onto the sidewalk. Willow turns to look at Autumn, whose mouth is wide open in surprise.

“You’ll have to excuse me for a moment. I’ll be right back,” Willow whispers to Gage.

She stands and exists the bar. The cool May air hits her as she folds her arms across her chest. Jamison leans against the building, puffing on a cigarette and staring at the stars in the cloudless, cobalt sky.

“Jamison! What the fuck was that?” Willow shouts as she approaches him. He rolls his eyes.

“I don’t know, Willow. You tell me!

“What are you talking about?” Yells Willow, her voice rich with irritation.

“That guy! What the hell was up with that? You were basically all over him!”

“That’s not true, Jamison and you know it.”

“Really, Willow? Your jaw literally dropped when you saw him,” he notices the shock present on Willow’s face, “yeah. I noticed that.”

“Jamison, I…”

“Just save it, Willow. It doesn’t matter.” Jamison takes a long pull on his cigarette and exhales the smoke through his partially open mouth. Willow stares at her feet, her arms relaxed at her sides.

“I don’t get this, Jamison. Why does it matter how I reacted to him?” Jamison continues to smoke his cigarette, refusing to look at Willow, “Why, Jamison?” He continues to ignore her. Willow stomps her foot and shouts, “Dammit, Jamison! Answer me!”

“Because I love you, Willow!” Jamison exclaims, frustrated, finally turning to look at Willow. His eyes are wide and filled with anger, jealousy, and sadness, “Willow, I’ve loved you for a very long time. I knew as soon as I met you in freshman chemistry four years ago that you were going to be special to me. I’ve wanted to tell you so many times but I never had the balls,” Jamison relaxes a little, “seeing you flirt with that guy in there made me so fucking jealous. I couldn’t hold it in anymore,” Jamison kicks a small pebble with his shoe, “this isn’t the way I wanted to tell you.”

“Jamison, you’re leaving. You’re moving to California in a month and you’re just now telling me this?”

“Seriously, Willow? This is my fault now? You’re blaming me because I’m following my dream? The dream that you encouraged me to pursue?”

“I knew that if I didn’t encourage you to go, you never would. Berkeley has the best chemistry program in the country,” Willow crosses her arms in front of her body once more, “I just wish you would’ve told me this sooner. It’s too late now. You’re leaving me.”

“I don’t know what to tell you, Willow. I’m going to Berkeley.”

“I’m sorry, Jamison.”

“Yeah. Me too. Have fun with Gage.” Jamison throws his cigarette to the ground and stomps on it with his shoe.

“Seriously?” Willow throws her hands up, exasperated.

“Yeah. Seriously, Willow. I can’t do this anymore. I’ll see you later. Have a good night.” Jamison turns and walks away, his hands tucked in his jeans pockets and his head down.

 

Chapter 3: The Secret Admirer

Willow plops back down in her chair. Autumn turns to her with a questioning look. Willow’s eyes are glazed with confusion, pain, and anger. Her face is red from the chilly wind. Her hands tremble slightly.

“Sorry about that, guys. Where were we?” Willow puts on her best fake smile. Gage clears his throat.

 “I got you a drink,” Gage flashes a dazzling smile at Willow.

“That’s right. You did,” she winks. Gage bites his bottom lip, staring at Willow with a sparkle in his eye. Her face flushes and warmth spreads through her body. She crosses her legs below the table.

“I’m going to go mingle,” Autumn says enthusiastically. Autumn heads toward the bar then turns to face Willow. She mouths the words, “You OK?” behind Gage’s back.

Willow gives her a thumb up and whispers, “I am now” while nodding towards Gage.

Autumn replies, “so hot,” and fans her face with her hand before spinning around and retreating away from the table.

“So, Willow, are you here celebrating your graduation like 99% of the people in here?” Gage snickers. She giggles.

“I sure am,” Willow replies, “I just graduated with my bachelors in chemistry.” Gage’s face lights up.

“Ah, she’s got brains and beauty,” he grins, “I’m actually a post-doc student at Colorado State.”

“No way! That’s a crazy coincidence!” Willow beams, sipping on her Moscow mule.

“Is it a coincidence or is it fate?” Gage winks.

“I guess we’ll have to wait and see,” Willow smiles, “Hey, what say we do some shots to commemorate this moment?”

“What say we do,” a widespread grin appears on Gage’s face, flashing his sparkling, white teeth, “What kind of shot should we take? Gummy bear? Buttery nipple?”

Willow snorts, “Really? A gummy bear shot? Hell no. Let’s do a shot of Jim Beam.”

“Hmm, interesting choice. Two shots of Jim Beam it is. I’ll be right back,” Gage brushes his hand against Willow’s as he stands and heads to the bar.

Out of the corner of her eye, Willow notices Autumn scurrying towards the table.

“OK. Spill,” Autumn demands as she hurriedly takes her seat next to Willow.

“We were just talking. He’s a post doc at CSU. He just went to the bar to buy us some shots.”

Autumn smiles from ear-to-ear, “Oh my God. He’s totally into you,” Autumn takes a sip of her mojito and sets it back down on the table. She begins to stir is slowly with her straw, “so what happened outside with Jamison?”

Sadness seeps across Willow’s face. She sighs, “He told me he’s in love with me and he has been for a really long time. He got really mad at me because apparently my jaw dropped when Gage came over to our table.”

“Well it kind of did,” Autumn trails off, “Sorry. That’s probably the last thing you want to hear right now. What happened next?”

“I basically told him it wouldn’t work out because he’s leaving. Then he said I was blaming it all on him because he’s ‘pursuing his dreams’ and ‘going to Berkeley’. I apologized and he told me to save it. Then he asked me to leave him alone and he walked away.” Willows eyes fell to the floor.

“Oh, Willow. I’m so sorry. This is such a tricky situation. But I think Jamison is just upset and confused right now. And he’s probably having a hard time with the fact that he’s moving in a month. I think you should give him some space and let it blow over. It’ll be ok.”

“I don’t know, Autumn. He seemed hurt and pretty damn pissed at me. I’m pretty sure he hates me. I fucked up big time.”

“I don’t think he hates you, love.”

“I do. You didn’t see the way he looked at me. His face was completely emotionless and his eyes went black. There wasn’t any light in them at all. He didn’t even look like himself. It’s like something…changed in him.”

“I’m sorry, Willow. I’m not sure what to say other than to give it time. Maybe call him tomorrow,” a brief, awkward pause fills the atmosphere before Gage returns to the table, breaking the silence.

“Hey Autumn. I saw you came back so I got you a shot as well,” Gage smirks as he sits down next to Willow. He passes the girls their shots while he raises his in the air, “Cheers to you lovely ladies on your graduation day.”

“And cheers to new friendships,” Willow chimes in. Her eyes lock with Gage’s as the same warmth spreads through her body once more. The three of them gently tap their shot glasses on the table top, tip their heads back, and take the drinks in unison. Autumn grimaces while Willow and Gage retain eye contact.

“I’m impressed, Willow. I like a girl who can handle her whiskey.” Gage licks his plump lips. Willow blushes, looking away.

“So, Gage, what was your doctorate degree in?” Willow questions, sipping on her Moscow mule.

“Well this is my cue to go get more drinks. I’m not going to understand any part of this conversation,” Autumn laughs, “Willow, the usual?”

“Yes, please!”

“What can I get you, Gage?”

“I’ll just have a bourbon on the rocks, please. Thanks, Autumn.”

“Here, Autumn,” Willow holds out $20 to her best friend, “This round is on me.”

“Thanks, love!” Autumn takes the money and bounces happily towards the bar.

“Back to your question,” Gage gains Willow’s attention once more, “my PhD was in analytical chemistry. I’m currently working on nanoparticle research for my post doc.”

“Analytical chemistry was never my favorite. But your research sounds fascinating. You’ll have to tell me more about it sometime,” Willow winks.

“I get that a lot. Not the ‘fascinating research part’ though. Just the ‘I hate analytical’ part,” Gage smiles as Willow laughs.

She’s so beautiful when she laughs. Her nose crinkles up in the most adorable way and her eyes dance with amusement. I’d do anything to keep her laughing, Gage thinks as he stares at Willow.

Autumn returns with the drinks and sets them down in front of Gage and Willow as she says, “Hey, Willow. I just saw Reed walk in so I’m going to go catch up with him. I’ll see you later!” Autumn blows Willow a kiss and jogs over to a tall, thin man with messy blonde hair. He leans down and plants a kiss on Autumn’s lips as she wraps her arms around his waist.

“Is that her boyfriend?” Gage asks pointing to Reed.

Willow takes a sip of her new drink, “Not really. They’ve been a thing for a long time but they’ve never made it official. Autumn is head over heels in love with him though.” Willow stares thoughtfully at Reed and Autumn as they being to sway to the music, holding each other in their arms.

“Do you want to dance?” Gage asks, his voice filled with hope.

“I’d love to,” Willow takes a long drink of her Moscow mule and smiles at Gage. He holds out his hand to her and she takes it.

As they reach the dance floor, a slow song echoes through the speakers. Gage spins Willow around, his muscles flexing. Willow’s hair flies around her as she completes the circle and lands back in Gage’s arms. She faces him, resting one hand on his firm chest and the other on his shoulder. Gage slides his hands down Willow’s sides and lands them on her hips.

“You’re beautiful, Willow.” Gage smiles down at her, staring into her emerald green eyes.

“You’re not so bad yourself,” she blushes.

“You’re cute when you blush,” Gage tucks a piece of loose hair behind Willow’s ear. Her face flushes a deeper shade of red.

“Can I ask you something, Gage?” Willow looks up at him expectantly while they sway to the music pulsing through the speakers.

“Of course.”

“Why did you choose me out of everyone in the bar? I mean, why did you randomly buy me a drink?”

“To be honest, I don’t know. I mean I notice how stunningly gorgeous you are the second you walked in the door. You took my breath away. But there was just something that drew me to you.” Gage spins Willow around once more. She reaches up and wraps her arms around his neck.

“You’re very sweet. Thank you, Gage.”

Gage locks eyes with Willow and leans forward slightly. His eyes drift down to her lips and back up to her eyes. She pulls Gage down to meet her lips. For a moment, all the excitement, anxiety and stress of the day rapidly fades from Willow’s mind. One of Gage’s hand slides up her back while his other hand moves to her butt. As their kiss depends, Gage wraps his hand in Willow’s hair. Warmth spreads through Willow’s body as she feels Gage press her further into him.

Willow steps back while keeping her arms around Gage’s neck. She inhales deeply as her heart races. She leans her head on his shoulder. A smile spreads across Gage’s face as he places his hands back on Willow’s waist.

“It’s getting late. I think I should head home,” Willow states reluctantly.

“Can I walk you home?” Gage asks, searching Willow’s face.

“Of course.”

Gage slips his hand into Willow’s and they interlace their fingers. He leads her out of the bar and into the cool night. After a short walk, Gage and Willow arrive at her apartment.

“Can I see you again?” Gage questions as he turns to face Willow, her hands in his.

“You can. Let me see your phone. I’ll give you my number.”

“Uh, one second,” Gage pats down his pants pockets, “I don’t think I brought it out tonight. I can give you my number though.” Gage rubs a finger under his nose nervously.

Willow smiles and hands Gage her phone. After several clicks, he hands it back to her. She places the phone in her back pocket. Gage leans forward and places one last kiss on her lips.

“It was really great to meet you, Willow.”

“You too, Gage. Goodnight.”

“Goodnight, beautiful.”

Willow grins and enters her apartment. She slowly shuts the door behind her as Gage turns and leaves.

 

Chapter 4: The Necklace

The next morning Willow wakes to the sound of rain pitter pattering on the window and soft thunder rolling in the distance. She sits up in bed, yawns, and stretches while replaying last night’s event in her head.

Did I ruin my relationship with Jamison forever? Should I try to call him? Why am I so conflicted about my feelings for Gage? Is it because I feel something for Jamison? Should I text Gage? Ugh. I need coffee.

Willow crawls out of bed and heads to her bedroom door. Out of the corner of her eye, she catches a glimpse of herself in the mirror and notices something is off. She approaches the mirror to get a closer look. Suddenly, it hits her. She gasps, “My mother’s pendent! It’s gone!” She begins rummaging through drawers, shifting through shelves, and scanning her floor, all to no avail. She drops to her knees and holds her head in her hands. The tears begin to flow, releasing all the emotions she has kept inside over the past 24 hours.

A soft knock on the bedroom door startles her. She halfheartedly wipes the tears from her eyes and stands.

“Willow? Are you OK? I made you some coffee,” Autumn sings.

“Coming!” Willow shakily walks to the door, composes herself, and opens it, “Hey, Autumn.”

“Hey. Are you ok?” Concern floods Autumn’s face as she searches her best friend’s eyes for answers.

“No. I’m not OK. Not at all,” Willow sobs. She doesn’t try to fight the tears that fill her eyes.

Autumn ushers Willow to her bed where they sit down together. Autumn sets two coffee mugs on Willow’s nightstand and wraps her arm around Willow’s shoulders.

“There’s so many things that are wrong, Autumn,” Willow cries, “I lost my mom’s pendent last night. It’s all I have left of her and it’s gone. I may have ruined things with Jamison forever and I kissed Gage and I have no idea how I feel about it. And I…”

“Willow. Breathe, OK? Take a deep breath,” Autumn coos calmly, stroking Willow’s hair. Her breath is labored as she follows Autumn’s advice. She takes a deep breath, slowing her heart rate, “There you go. Good. Now, are you sure you wore the necklace to the bar last night?”

Willow nods, “I put it on before we opened the champagne.”

“OK. So, since you already checked in here, why don’t we look in the kitchen? If we don’t find it there, we can call the bar. Maybe someone turned it in. It’s also possible that Jamison or Gage have seen it. Can you text them?”

After a moment of silence, Willow agrees, “OK. I don’t think I can just text Jamison out of the blue and ask him. We left on such bad terms. I can try to get him to talk with me first. Then I can ask.”

“Good idea, Willow. It’s going to be OK. We’ll find it. I promise,” Autumn gives Willow’s shoulder a reassuring squeeze, “Why don’t you have some coffee then we can talk about the rest. Sound good?”

Willow nods sheepishly, wiping the tears from her eyes. Autumn hands her a cup of steaming coffee. The rich, familiar scent dances in Willow’s nose, sending comfort through her body. She takes a sip.

“Thanks, Autumn.” The warm drink touches Willow’s tongue and for a second, she is at peace.

“Of course, love,” Autumn drinks her coffee and proceeds, “So let’s talk about Jamison. You seemed fine after your argument last night. What changed?”

“Well, Gage was a good distraction. I liked spending time with him. But he’s not Jamison. I think you’re right. I do have feelings for him. Strong feelings. But I may have ruined our relationship beyond repair.” Willow stares at the mug in her hands.

“You should call him, Willow. You don’t want him to leave for grad school without telling him how you feel.”

“What if he doesn’t answer my call?”

“Text him. Leave him a voicemail. Just keep trying.”

“And if that doesn’t work?”

“Then I think you’ll have your answer, Willow. You’ll have to move on,” Autumn responds, her voice filled with pain.

Willow nods slowly, trying will all of her might to hold back her tears. She sniffles, “OK. You’re right. I’ll try to talk to him.”

“So, onto Gage. What’s going on with him? It seems like you two hit it off.”

“I like him. We had a great time last night, but…”

“Jamison?”

“Yeah,” Willow agrees. She takes a drink of her coffee and continues, “I feel like I’m cheating on Jamison when I’m with Gage. And it doesn’t feel organic with Gage like it does with Jamison. I feel like I have to try really hard with Gage. I’m such an idiot. Why didn’t I realize how I felt until it was too late?”

“What are you going to do?” Autumn looks at Willow, peering into her sad, lifeless eyes.

“I’m going to try to get ahold of Jamison and tell him how I feel. And if he rejects me, I’ll see how it goes with Gage.”

“Why don’t you text Jamison and I’ll call the bar and see if they’ve seen your necklace?” Autumn suggests, a hint of a reassuring smile on her face.

“OK. Sure. That sounds like a good plan,” Willow agrees. Autumn stands and hugs Willow before pulling out her phone and dialing the bar’s number, “I’ll be in the kitchen.”

Willow nods. She inhales deeply and pulls her phone off her night stand. She exhales. She begins to type out a text to Jamison, Hey Jamison. It’s Willow. She shakes her head and deletes the text she wrote. Instead, she dials Jamison’s number, biting her bottom lip with anxiety. She waits as the phone rings three times. Then voicemail.

“Hey, Jamison. It’s Willow. Look, I’m so sorry about last night. I was hoping we could talk. There are some things I wanted to tell you. Please call me back. Bye, Jamison.” Willow hangs up the phone, her heart aching.

Autumn reappears in Willow’s door frame, “Bad news, love. The bar didn’t find your mom’s necklace. And I didn’t find it in the kitchen.” Autumn stares at the floor nervously.

Willow sighs, “Thanks for calling the bar, Autumn. I called Jamison. He declined my call so I left him a voicemail.”

“He’ll call back, Willow.”

“I hope so,” Willow’s voice is low and shaky, “Do you think I should text Gage while I wait to hear back from Jamison?”

“It wouldn’t hurt.”

Willow nods and turns to her phone once more. Hey, Gage! It’s Willow. I had a great time with you last night. She sends the text and glances up at Autumn, “OK. I texted him. I’ll ask him about the necklace when he replies.”

“OK, love. It’s all going to be OK. You got this. We’ll find the necklace and you’ll figure stuff out with Jamison. I promise.”

“Thanks so much, Autumn. I don’t know what I’d do without you,” Willow smiles up at her best friend.

“It’s no problem at all. By the way, Reed asked me out for breakfast this morning. Do you mind if I go? Be honest. I can stay here if you need me.”

“Autumn, I’m OK. You should go. I’m feeling a lot better.”

“Thanks, Willow. I love you! I’ll be home in a few hours.”

“I love you too. Have fun!” Willow winks as Autumn as she exists the bedroom and heads for the front door. Willow feels her phone vibrate on the bed next to her.

Jamison! His name flashes through her mind as she picks up her phone. Oh. It’s just Gage. She clicks open the new text message. Hey beautiful. I had a great time last night too. What are you up to on this stormy, May morning?

Willow: I’m just lying in bed relaxing. How about you? P.S. have you seen a white gold diamond pendent? I seem to have misplaced my necklace at the bar last night.

Gage: Ooh. May I join you? I have not seen your necklace. I remember you wearing it at the beginning of the night though.

Willow: Can you keep your eye out for me, please?

Gage: Anything for you, beautiful. When can I see you again?

A small frown appears on Willow’s face. She picks up her phone, rolls her eyes, sets it on her nightstand, and flops back down on her bed. Emotions begin to flood through her head. Her heart aches as thoughts of Jamison seep through her mind.

Maybe I should call him again. We’ve never had so much distance between us. Willow feels her phone vibrate once more. She smirks and bites her lip in excitement as she turns to look at the notification on her screen. Her happiness fades as Gage’s name flashes on her phone.

I’m going to call him. I need to talk to him.

Willow dials Jamison’s number for the second time. After two rings, she hears his voice.

“Hey it’s Jamison. Sorry I missed your call. Leave me a message and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.” Willow sighs as she hears Jamison’s voicemail. Frustrated, she tosses her phone to the side.

I just need to accept the fact that I’ve ruined things with him. I fucked up. Big time. And that’s that. Willow closes her eyes, trying to blink away the tears that beg to fall. She picks up her phone once more and replies to Gage’s text.

Willow: How about tonight?

Gage: Dinner at 8? I’ll pick you up.

Willow: See you then. Xoxo

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At 7:55 there’s a soft knock at the front door. Willow nervously and excitedly trots to greet her visitor. She gingerly opens the door to see Gage leaning against the door frame.

“Hey beautiful,” Gage purrs. He flashes Willow a toothy smile.

“You ready to go?”

“I sure am,” Gage reaches his hand out to Willow and she takes it. He leads her to his car parked at the curb. Gently, he opens the door for her.

“After you, beautiful.” Willow slides into the passenger seat as Gage shuts the door behind her. He glides around the car and takes his place next to Willow in the driver’s seat as she fastens her seatbelt.

“Where are we off to?” She questions.

“I figured we could grab a bite to eat downtown.”

“That sounds perfect,” Willow leans over and plants a kiss on Gage’s cheek.

“What was that for?” He grins.

“I just missed you.”

“I missed you too, beautiful,” Gage turns towards the road ahead of them, “Let’s get out of here. I’m starving.”

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After a short drive, they arrive at a small, hole-in-the-wall pub downtown.

“Here we are, beautiful,” Gage puts the car into park and exists. He walks around the vehicle and opens Willow’s door for her.

“I’ve never been here before,” Willow states as she climbs out of Gage’s car.

“It’s quiet and small. I tend to like dull dive bars most of the time. It’s nice to have some peace and quiet compared to the normal bar scene.” Gage briefly rubs the back of his neck.

“Fair enough. I like some peace and quiet too, sometimes,” Willow grabs Gage’s hand, “Shall we?”

“We shall,” Gage holds open the pub door for Willow as she struts in. Gage brushes by her and strides over to a two-top table in the corner of the bar. Willow gracefully sits and Gage plops down next to her.

“What do you want to drink? It’ll be faster if I go to the bar myself.”

“A Moscow...”

“Moscow mule?” Gage winks.

“You remembered. I’m impressed,” Willow flips her silky-smooth auburn hair over her shoulder.

“Of course, I did,” Gage stands and heads towards the bar.

Across the table, Gage’s phone lights up. Willow glances towards the bar to see Gage’s back turned. She focuses on the phone and leans forward slightly.

Haley? Who the is fuck Haley? Willow leans back and crosses her arms across her chest. Am I jealous? Why am I jealous?

“Here’s your Moscow mule,” Gage gently sets her drink down in front of her. Willow jumps, startled by Gage’s sudden appearance.

“Thanks, Gage,” Willow takes a sip of her drink.

“So, Willow, now that you’re a college graduate, what’s next for you?” Gage takes a slow gulp of his Jack and Coke.

“Well, I start my new job on Monday. I landed my dream job at the EPA here in Colorado.”

“Wow! That’s amazing! Congratulations.”

“Thank you! I’m excited.”

“You should be. This is a huge deal,” Gage smiles at Willow, reaching his hand across the table. He squeezes it. Willow blushes, “Hey, I’ve been meaning to ask you. Did you ever find your necklace?”

“No. I didn’t, unfortunately,” Gage notices the sadness that creeps into Willow’s eyes.

“Is it special to you?” Gage pries.

Willow nods, “Yes. Yes, it is. It was my mother’s.”

“Did something happen to her?”

Willow takes a deep breath and releases it before she proceeds, “Yes. My sophomore year her and my dad were killed by a drunk driver. They were on their way to visit me at school. The driver crossed over into their lane and hit them head on. My dad died instantly. My mom was rushed via ambulance to a nearby hospital. She suffered extensive blood loss and blunt force trauma. She died a few hours after her arrival in the emergency room. I never got to say goodbye.”

“I’m so sorry, Willow. I can’t even imagine what that’s like,” Gage rubs his thumb across Willow’s knuckles.

“It’s OK. It’s not your fault.”

“Well I know it’s not my fault. But I still feel terrible. I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy.”

“I’m sorry to be a total buzzkill,” Willow gives Gage a halfhearted smile, “I’ve just been thinking about them a lot since I graduated yesterday.”

“You’re not a buzzkill, Willow. It’s OK to be upset. But I’d love to help you try to find your necklace.”

“Oh, Gage, that would be amazing. Thank you so much,” Willow smiled.

“Anything for you, beautiful,” Gage takes Willows hand and presses it against his lips. She blushes.

“I really like you, Willow. I’ve never met a girl like you before.”

“I really like you, too,” Willow bites her bottom lip and breaks eye contact with Gage. Warmth spreads through her body.

“Do you want to order some food then get out of here?”

“I’d like that,” Willow glances at Gage. His eyes are filled with desire. She can’t help the butterflies dancing and tumbling in her stomach when she looks at him. Her attraction to him is undeniable. Yet there is something about him that concerns her. He’s so mysterious. She barely knows him, yet she craves him.

“What do you want to eat?”  Gage snaps Willow out of the trance she was in.

“I think I’ll just have a burger and fries,” Willow feels her cheeks flush, embarrassed by the thoughts that swarm through her mind.

“That sounds good to me, too. I’ll go to the bar and order it for us. I’ll be right back,” Gage smiles at Willow before standing and heading to the bar.

Keep it together, Willow. She thinks as she watches Gage strut toward the bar. Out of her peripheral, Willow notices Gage’s phone light up once more. The same name appears on his screen. Haley. Willow sighs as a weird sensation courses through her body. Seriously? Who the fuck is Haley? An ex-girlfriend? His sister? Why am I so damn jealous? Calm down, Willow. Don’t jump to conclusions. You can’t assume things. It’s probably nothing. He likes you. Maybe I should just ask him who she is. Willow laughs to herself. Are you crazy? He’ll think you’re snooping. Just pretend like you didn’t see anything. Play it cool.

“Here is one burger and fries,” Gage smiles sweetly as he sets a basket of food in front of Willow. He sits back down in his chair.

“Thank you so much. I really appreciate it,” Willow grins.

Willow and Gage dig in to their food. The conversation remains light as they finish the last of their meals. They discuss their schooling, their families and their work. They spoke about their favorite books, movies and music. Gage even asks what Willow’s favorite color is.

“I’m stuffed,” Willow points out as she sets her napkin in her empty basket.

“Me too. Are you ready to go?” Gage asks, mirroring Willow.

“I am. Can we go to your place?”

“Um,” Gage rubs his neck, “I have a roommate that doesn’t appreciate when I have women over.

“Oh. Do you have women over often?”

“That’s not what I meant,” Gage laughs nervously.

“What exactly do you mean then?” Willow crosses her arms and glares at Gage.

“It’s not like that, Willow. My ex used to stay over a lot and my roommate got really upset about it. I promise,”

Willow stares thoughtfully at Gage. Even though red flags are popping up all over her mind, she nods at Gage and says, “We can go to my place.”

Gage bites his lip and nods. He shifts his eyes from Willow’s face down to her lips, then to her neck, to her breasts, and back up again. Desire spreads across his face.

“Let’s get out of here,” Gage stands and Willow follows. She links her arms in his and they walk out of the pub together.

After a short drive, Gage and Willow are climbing out of his car. Gage wraps his arm around her waist as they walk toward her apartment together. Willow fumbles with her keys as they approach the front door.

Gage grabs Willows wrist with one hand, and the back of her head with the other. He pushes her against the door and presses against her. He lowers his lips to hers. He cups her face in his large hands as their kiss grows more passionate. Willow feels lust growing inside her as she pulls Gage closer to her.

Willow pulls back and stares into Gage’s eyes. She quickly turns towards the door, smiling. She inserts the key into the lock, grabs Gage’s hand, flails the door open, and yanks him inside. Gage grabs her by the waist with one hand and slams Willow into his body. His mouth is over hers as he kicks the door shut behind him. They stumble into Willow’s bedroom, their lips still linked together.

Willow steps away from Gage, her eyes connected to his. She slowly grabs the hem of her sweater and lifts it over her head. Gage quietly shuts her bedroom door behind him. She slowly saunters toward him, unbuttoning her jeans along the way. Gage slips his flannel off and puts his hands on Willow’s hips. He leans his forehead on hers and grins a sexy, sly smile. She gently grasps his undershirt and pulls it off, revealing his strong, chiseled chest. Their lips reconnect as they clumsily walk to the bed, wrapped in each other’s arms.  

Chapter 5: The Dinner

The next morning, Willow rolls over on her side to face Gage. She opens her eyes to find her bed empty. She sits up suddenly, her mind foggy.

Where did he go? She notices a piece of paper lying on the nightstand next to her. She unfolds the paper. It reads: Good morning beautiful. I had somewhere to be this morning. Text me when you wake up. Thanks for last night.

Willow flops back down on her head. What does he mean he had somewhere to be? He didn’t mention that at all last night. Is it Haley? Something is off here. Right? Or am I just overthinking this? I haven’t had a boyfriend in years. Oh my God. Boyfriend? Really, Willow? You barely know the guy! Ugh. It’s too early for this shit.

Willow pulls her phone off the night stand and unlocks it. She types out a message to Gage. Hey, you. Where did you run off to this morning? Gage replies almost instantly.

Gage: Hey, beautiful. I had to meet my parents for breakfast. How are you?

Willow: That’s sweet. I’m doing quite well, thanks to you. And you?

Gage: I’m doing great! What are you up to tonight?

Willow: I don’t have any plans. Tomorrow is my first day at work so I should be in bed early. Other than that, I’m free. What do you have in mind?

Gage: Can I come over and make you dinner?

Willow: When can I come to your place?

Gage: Soon. I promise. What do you say to dinner?

Willow: It’s a date.

Gage: I’ll be there at 6.

Willow grins down at her phone. For the first time in a while, Willow felt that all was falling into place. She had been longing for a relationship for years. However, due to her school schedule, a relationship had never been ideal. Between class, studying, tutoring and research, she never had time for a boyfriend, let alone herself. For the first time since the morning of graduation, Jamison didn’t even cross her mind.

Willow climbs out of bed and heads out to the kitchen, her smile still plastered on her. She sees Autumn leaning against the counter top, making coffee.

“Good morning, sunshine. Sounds like you had a goodnight,” Autumn pours a pot of boiling water into the French press resting on the counter top.

“What? What do you mean?” Willow replies self-consciously.

“I saw Gage leaving this morning with a secret smile on his face. What’s up with that?” Autumn turns to look at her best friend.

“He took me out to dinner last night and we came back here afterwards.”

“What happened next?” Autumn giggles as she picks up the French press and pours two cups of steaming, hot coffee.

“I think you know what happened next,” Willow winks as she grabs a mug from Autumn.

“Was it good?” Autumn pours creamer into her coffee.

“Shut up,” Willow laughs and throws a dish towel towards Autumn, “I don’t kiss and tell.”

Autumn catches the towel with her free hand and chuckles, “Oh, whatever, Willow!” Willow shrugs, grinning to herself, “Have you heard from Jamison?”

Willow’s face falls, “To be honest I haven’t even thought of Jamison since yesterday morning. I’ve just accepted the fact that he’s probably not going to call back and I have to let him go.”

“You’re just going to let him go that easy?”

“I don’t know what else to do, Autumn,” Willow groaned.

“You’re not going to call him again?”

“I’ve already called him twice. I don’t want to annoy him by suffocating him.”

“Willow. Do you love him?”

“I…I don’t know, Autumn. I thought I did. But I’m not so sure anymore,” Willow trailed off.

“I think Gage is clouding your judgment. I think you’re blinded by lust. Or infatuation.”

“Come on, Autumn. That’s not true.”

“Really, Willow? When is the last time you brought a guy home with you on the second date,” Autumn crosses her arms and glares at Willow, “I think there’s something fishy about him, Willow. I didn’t see it at first but the more I thought about it, the clearer it became.”

“Are you jealous? You’re jealous, aren’t you? Because you can’t get Reed to commit!” Willow angrily sets her coffee cup down on the counter.

“I can’t believe you just went there!  That’s bullshit, Willow!” Autumn shouts, “I’m just trying to make you realize what’s at stake here. You’re willing to throw your relationship with Jamison away for Gage. This isn’t like you. I don’t get it. That dude is shady as fuck. Why can’t you see that?”

“I don’t know what to tell you, Autumn,” Willow rubs her eyes, “I just need some space. I don’t know what to think right now. Thanks for the coffee.” Willow retreats to her room and slams the door behind her in exasperation. She leans against the door and slowly slides down to the floor. She pulls her knees towards her chest with her back still against the door.

I wish you were here, mom. You’d know exactly what to do. Willow gazes around her room. A picture taped to her mirror grabs her attention. In it, her and Jamison are looking at one another, laughing. Their eyes are alive with pure joy and happiness. Willow tips her head back, resting it against her door. Her heart aches as she wonders if Gage could ever look at her the way Jamison looked at her in that photo. What am I doing? I love him. I love Jamison. Autumn is right. I need to call him. I’ll try one more time.

Willow dials Jamison’s number. After four rings, she hears his voicemail. God dammit. Willow feels tears pressing against the back of her eyes. What did I do? The tears begin to pour down her cheeks, memories of Jamison flowing with them. I’m going to call him one last time. I’ll leave him a voicemail if he doesn’t answer. After that, the ball is in his court.

For the second time, Willow dials Jamison’s number. Voicemail. She sighs and collects herself before leaving a message, “Hey, Jamison. It’s Willow. Again. I’m not sure what to say other than I’m so sorry. I miss you. There’s a lot I want to talk to you about. Please just give me a call back. This distance between us is killing me. Please talk to me. I...I lo…I just miss you. Bye, Jamison.”

That’s all I can do. It’s over. Time to move on. Willow thinks as her shoulders began to heave. Her breath catches. The flood gates burst open as tears drain from her eyes like the first rain after a two-year drought. She rocks back and forth on the floor, hugging her knees to her chest. Her heart aches. She feels as though the wind has been taken from her lungs. The pain consumes her. Darkness spreads through her body, taking over her thoughts. She falls to her side, curled up in the fetal position. After a moment, she feels nothing as she slips into a tormented and restless sleep.

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Willow wakes, her head pounding. Her nose stuffy. Her throat scratchy. Her eyes burn. She slowly stands off the floor to her feet. She reaches for her phone on the floor next to where she was lying. 5:45.

Fuck. How did I sleep so long? I need to get ready. Gage will be here in 15 minutes. Willow takes a deep breath to compose herself. She hobbles to the bathroom. Her cheeks are stained with a thousand tears. Her eyes are red and cloudy. Her long, auburn hair is a tangled mess. I look like I got hit by a fucking bus. She leans forward and begins washing her face, scrubbing away the marks of sorrow on her pale face. She pulls out her makeup bag and puts on eyeliner and a layer of mascara followed by rose lipstick. She steps back, admiring her handiwork. It’ll do.

A knock at the front door calls Willow from her room. She opens it revealing Gage standing on the porch holding a bouquet of flowers and a grocery bag.

“Hey, beautiful,” he smiles, handing the flowers to Willow. She takes them, breathing in their sweet, floral fragrance.

“They’re gorgeous. Thanks, Gage,” she leans forward and plants a soft kiss on his lips. She slides out of the doorway as Gage enters. She closes the door behind him, “so what are you making me for dinner?” Willow leads Gage into the kitchen where he places the groceries on the counter.

“I figured we’d go Italian today. I have stuff for salads then for the main course I’ll be making spaghetti with homemade sauce and meatballs,” he begins unpacking the groceries.

“That sounds amazing!” Willow grabs a bottle of red wine from the fridge and two glasses from the cupboard. She pours the deep, ruby red liquid into the wine glasses. She passes one to Gage as he begins boiling a pot of water on the stove, “where did you learn to cook like this?”

“Well, my mom is from Italy. She taught me everything I know.”

“That’s sweet. Are you close?”

“We’re very close. She’s everything to me,” he begins chopping romaine lettuce for the salads and placing it in bowls. Gage’s phone begins to vibrate on the counter next to Willow. She picks it up and hands it to him. Gage’s eyes grow wide. He hits the lock button and slides the phone into his back pocket while clearing his throat.

“Who’s Haley?” Willow asks taking a small sip of her wine. An uneasy feeling creeps into her stomach.

“She’s my, um, sister,” Gage continues focusing on making the salads, avoiding Willow’s gaze.

“I see,” Willow states, “what’s she like?”

“I’d rather not talk about it. We had a falling out recently. I don’t want to focus on sad topics tonight.”

“Oh. I’m sorry. I didn’t know,” Willow says suspiciously.

“It’s fine,” Gage pours spaghetti noodles into the pot of boiling water. He pulls another pot from the cupboard below him and begins gathering ingredients for the sauce, “so how are you feeling about your first day on the job tomorrow?” Gage quickly changes the subject.

“I’m feeling pretty good! I’m a little nervous but I’m ready to get started,” she continues to sip her wine as she watches Gage carefully and meticulously craft their dinner.

“You’re going to do great,” Gage leans forward and presses his lips against Willow’s forehead. She blushes a bright shade of scarlet.

“You blush a lot around me,” Gage remarks slyly, a smirk on his mouth, “why is that?”

“To be honest, I haven’t had a boyfriend in a long time. And you’re a little intimidating…”

“Wait. Boyfriend? Woah, Willow. This is only our third date. I didn’t realize we were like, official. Or whatever,” Gage pauses to stare at Willow, confused.

“Oh. I guess I just thought…”

“Well you thought wrong. I’m not the type of guy to settle down. I thought I made that pretty clear.” He averts his attention back to his cooking.

“How exactly did you think you made that clear to me? You literally never said anything about that,” Willow blurts out, her voice rich with frustration.

“I never said I wanted a girlfriend either.”

“I know you didn’t say that. That’s not the point. You’ve been giving me pretty strong signals that you’re into me and that’s what you wanted. Hell, you brought me flowers and you’re making me dinner,” Willow balls her fists and clenches her teeth.

“I am into you, Willow. I just don’t want a relationship. I thought we were just like, having fun, you know? I thought this was a casual thing.”

“Well, we’re obviously not on the same page,” she crosses her arms tightly across her chest and turns her head away from Gage.

“Look, Willow. I’m sorry. I just got out of a long-term relationship. It ended badly and I just don’t want to get hurt again,” Gage sets his cooking utensils down and walks around the counter to Willow. He grabs her hands in his and delicately uncrosses her arms from her chest, “I really like you. I just need some time. I can definitely see us being official down the road if that makes you feel any better,” Gage gently kisses Willow’s lips.

“Are you over her or do you still have feelings for her?”

“I’m over her, Willow. I promise. I just don’t want to jump into anything right away. She hurt me. I don’t want to make the same mistake twice,” he wraps Willow in a warm hug.

“OK. I understand. I’m sorry I misunderstood and misread your intentions,” Willow nods.

“It’s OK. I have been giving mixed signals. But it’s just because I really like you. You’re amazing,” Gage walks back to the stove and continues cooking.

“You’re not so bad yourself,” Willow winks and drinks her wine. Gage laughs, still focusing on the work before him.

“So, I wanted to ask you about the other night. Who was that guy you were with at the bar that got pissed as fuck when I bought you a drink?”

Willow knew that this conversation was bound and determined to happen. Thoughts of Jamison flash through her mind. Her heart begins to ache. Her stomach twists and turns inside of her. Even though she knew Gage would ask about Jamison, she wasn’t prepared for how much pain it would bring. She takes a deep breath before answering Gage’s question.

“That was Jamison. He is, I mean was, my best friend,” Willow gulps down her wine, “when I followed him out of the bar after he left, he told me he was in love with me. He’s always loved me. Autumn has told me so many times in the past that he loves me but I never believed her. Anyway, he didn’t like the way I reacted when I saw you. He got really jealous and had to get away from you. We got into a huge argument because he’s leaving for grad school in California in a month and I told him I wish he would’ve told me how he felt sooner. But it was too late,” Gage notices Willow face fill with pain.

“Do you love him?” Gage looks up at Willow.

“I did. But he refuses to talk to me. He won’t answer or return any of my calls. It’s over.”

Gage begins plating their dinner. He refills Willows wine glass and sets a plate of steaming spaghetti down in front of her. She smiles briefly. Gage takes a seat next to Willow. He begins digging into his salad. Willow picks up a fork and twirls it in her spaghetti. The noodles wrap around her fork. She places the food in her mouth and relaxes.

“Gage, this is SO good!” exclaims Willow.

“Thanks, beautiful. The credit goes to mom.”

“She taught you well,” Willow smiles at Gage and he returns the expression.

They eat in silence. This night was not going how Willow expected. It was only their third date and they already got into an argument. The topics of discussion have been heavy. Willow was visibly upset over Jamison. Gage was confused and startled by Willow’s view on their relationship. Tensions were high.

Maybe Autumn was right. There is something a little shady about Gage. I don’t buy that Haley is his sister. Especially because he changed the subject immediately after I brought her up. Then he follows that up with the relationship bullshit. Something is not right with this guy. Why do I like him so much? Is it just lust or infatuation? Autumn is usually right about these things. I must figure out what the hell Gage is up to before this goes too far.

Gage stands and takes Willow’s plate and places it on his. He begins cleaning the dishes as Willow pours herself another glass of wine. She holds the glass gingerly in her hands.

“So, Willow. I was thinking that tomorrow you could come to my place after work. I know you said you wanted to come over. My roommate will be out of town until Thursday.”

“Oh! That would be great. I’d love to come over. Thanks, Gage.”

“Anything for you, beautiful,” says Gage as he places the pots, bowls, and plates into the dishwasher. He expertly wipes down the counter, clearing any traces of sauce and crumbs.

“I think I should probably get ready for bed. I still need to take a shower and figure out what I’m going to wear tomorrow. Thank you so much for dinner,” Willow yawns.

“No problem. It was my pleasure. Will you walk me out?”

“Of course,” Willow stands and grabs Gage’s hand, leading him to the front door.

“Good luck tomorrow. You’re going to do great. Text me when you’re home from work and I can come pick you up.”

“Thank you. And thanks again for dinner. It was delicious.”

“You’re welcome. I’ll see you tomorrow,” Gage pulls Willow in for a kiss. Their lips meet. Gage wraps his arms around Willow’s waist. After a moment, he leans away and tucks a piece of hair behind Willow’s ear, “goodnight, beautiful.”

“Goodnight, Gage.”

 

Chapter 6: The Resolution 

Rain seeps from the sky, thunder rolls, and lightning flashes through the atmosphere as Willow enters her apartment after her first day of work. She walks into her bedroom and pulls off her work clothes and replaces them with a more casual outfit. She slides into a pair of dark denim jeans and puts on a long sleeve tee. She gathers her hair back into a messy bun at the nape of her neck and slips her feet into a pair of brown booties. She pulls out her phone to let Gage know she’s home.

Willow: Hey Gage. I’m home. You can come pick me up whenever you’re ready!

Gage: Hey beautiful. How did your first day of work go? I’ll be there in 15.

Willow: It was amazing! I’ll tell you all about it when I see you.

Gage: I can’t wait to hear about it. See you soon.

After 15 short minutes, Gage is at the front door. Willow smiles as she sees him and greets him with a quick kiss on the lips. He pops open an umbrella and holds it above Willow’s head as she wraps her arm around his. Together, they walk to his car as Gage shields her from the rain. He opens his passenger door for Willow and slides into the vehicle. He closes the umbrella as he shuts her door. He hurriedly scurries around the car and hops into the driver’s seat. He pokes the keys into the ignition and the car roars to life.

“Tell me all about your first day!” Gage steers the car from the curb into the street.

“It was amazing! Their lab is beautiful. I got a tour of the building and was introduced to all the other chemists and interns. I have my own desk where I’ll be writing my reports. I should be starting the chemical tests later this week. I’ll be analyzing air, soil, water and sediment samples for toxins, etc.”

“Look at you! That’s amazing! I’m so happy for you. You deserve it, Willow,” Gage takes one hand off the wheel and grabs Willow’s. He squeezes it and she smiles up at him.

“Thanks, Gage.”

“Well, here we are!” Gage pulls into a parking spot in front of an elegant apartment complex. The building is planted in front of the picturesque Rocky Mountains. The stark contrast of the red brick and the dark mountains was breathtaking. Gage slides around the front of the car and pulls open Willow’s door, “After you.”

“This place is beautiful, Gage. The view is gorgeous!”

“I’m glad you like it,” Gage takes Willow’s hand in his and together they walk into the building. Once inside, they turn to the left and Gage presses the “up” button on the panel beside the elevator. The doors slide open. Willow and Gage walk inside. He presses the button labeled with a number three. The doors slide open once more after a short ascend to the third floor. They turn right out of the elevator and continue a few feet down the hallway. Gage stops in front of apartment number 310. He moves his hand forward, preparing to place the key into the lock, “Hmm. That’s weird.”

“What?”

“It’s unlocked. I locked it behind me when I went to pick you up,” a nervous expression fades across Gage’s face. He inhales and turns the door knob, pushing the door open.

“Surprise!” A tall, thin woman with wide mocha brown eyes and rich, chocolate hair stands in the living room of Gage’s apartment.

“Haley? What the hell. What are you doing here?” Gage’s eyes are wide. His mouth is agape. His breathing is labored. His heart pounds inside his chest like a drum.

“Who the fuck is this, Gage?” Haley angrily crosses her arms and stomps her foot.

“Is Haley really your sister, Gage?” Willow asks, anger floating in her voice. She feels butterflies angrily swarm inside her stomach. Her palms grow sweaty. Her eyes squint. She turns to look at Gage when he doesn’t answer her, “Gage? What the fuck is going on here?”

Gage closes his eyes and inhales deeply, “Willow, this is Haley. My fiancé.”

Willow’s mouth drops open. Her eyes flutter from Gage to Haley, and back to Gage again, “fiancé? Seriously?” Willow whips her head around to Haley and notices a large diamond sparkling on her left ring finger, “you’re engaged?! I thought you said you just got out of a long-term relationship that ended badly?”

“Ha!” Haley snorted, “that’s what he says to all of his little girlfriends. She’s cute, Gage. Where did you find her?”

All of his girlfriends?” Willow shoots daggers at Gage with her eyes. He shifts his weight uncomfortably. He rubs the back of his neck, avoiding eye contact with either Willow or Haley, “this is fucking bullshit. I can’t believe this. Fuck you, Gage. You can go to hell.” Willow turns on her heel and storms out of the apartment, slamming the door behind her.

Once in the elevator, she pulls out her phone and dials her best friend’s number. She hears Autumn say “hello” and responds, fighting to hold back tears, “Hey, Autumn. I need a favor.”

“Willow, are you OK?”

“Not at all. Can you come pick me up?”

“Of course, love. Where are you?” Willow can hear Autumn scurrying out of their apartment on the other side of the phone.

“I’m at Gage’s apartment complex. The address is 3746 Maple Lane.”

“I’m on my way.”

“Thanks, Autumn,” Willow hangs up the phone and sprints out of the apartment building after exiting the elevator. She sits down on the curb and hugs her knees to her chest. Her mascara streams down her face, dragging her tears it. She buries her face in her knees. The rain continues to pour from the sky, soaking her to the bone. She shivers as thunder rolls above her.

I can’t fucking believe this. What a fucking asshole! Willow sobs, her shoulders shuddering. Jamison would never do this to me. What have I done? She begins to bawl, struggling to catch her breath.

“Willow!” She looks up and sees Autumn running towards her. Willow stands as Autumn throws her arms around her, “what the hell happened? Come on. Get in the car. You’re freezing.” Autumn puts an arm around Willow’s shoulders and helps her to the vehicle. Both girls get into the car and shut their doors behind them.

Willow’s tears fall less violently. She takes a deep breath. Her heart beat slows, “Gage is engaged. He told me last night he only wanted a casual relationship because he just got out of a relationship that ended badly. He invited me over here after work. When we got inside his fiancé was standing in the living room.” Autumn hands Willow a tissue. She begins to soak up the tears and mascara on her face.

“Oh, Willow, I’m so, so sorry,” Autumn reaches across the center console and wraps Willow in a tight hug, “you don’t deserve this. Fuck him. He’s a piece of shit.”

“I don’t know, Autumn. I think I do deserve this,” Willow sniffs loudly, “I rejected Jamison and I treated you like complete shit. I’m so sorry, Autumn. I fucked up big time. You were right all along.”

“It’s OK, Willow. I’m over it. I’m not mad at you. You went through a lot of emotions this weekend. I know you didn’t mean what you said.” Autumn strokes Willow’s hair gently.

“Thanks, Autumn,” Willow sighs, “Jamison never would’ve done this to me. I’m such an idiot for letting him get away.”

“He never called you back?” Autumn asks.

Willow shakes her head slowly, “no. he didn’t.”

“Let’s go home and make some hot chocolate. I have some Kahlua we can add to it,” Autumn winks.

Willow cracks a small smile and nods as Autumn turns the car on and drives out of the parking lot. As they turn down the main road, Autumn’s phone beings to ring through the car speaker. Jamison’s name flashes on her screen. Willow sees it and snaps her head to look at Autumn, her eyes filled with hope. Autumn accepts the call.

“Hey, Jamison. What’s up?” Autumn says out loud.

“Hey, Autumn,” Jamison’s voice is deep with sadness. He sighs, “I’m leaving for California today. I decided to go early. I can’t stand to see Willow with that jackass Gage.”

“What?!” shouts Autumn, “Gage, what the fuck? You’re leaving without saying goodbye to us?”

“That’s why I’m calling. My plane is leaving in an hour. I’ll be boarding soon. Tell Willow I said goodbye and that I’m sorry. Goodbye, Autumn.”

“Jamison, wait!” Willow shouts too late. The call ends. Autumn stops at a red light. Willow stares out the front windshield, her mouth wide open. She closes her eyes and puts her head in her hands. Autumn flips on her turn signal and steers the car into the next lane, “Autumn, where are you going?”

“To the airport. You’re gonna go get your man,” Autumn smiles as she turns onto the on ramp of the highway. Willow sits back up in her seat, a grin spreading across her face. She turns to look at her best friend.

“You’re the best, Autumn,” Willow shrieks.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Autumn slams her car into park at the airport as Willow throws open the passenger door. Autumn follows suit and races around the car to meet Willow. Together, they sprint from the parking lot into the airport. They come to a stop in front of a set of monitors detailing flight information. Willow scans the flights listed on the screens.

“There!” She points at the monitor, “Flight AA100 from Denver to San Francisco. Gate B7. We only have 20 minutes. Hurry!” Willow grabs Autumn’s arm. They jog towards the TSA security check. Willow begins removing her shoes as she stumbles through the line. She throws her shoes, purse, and phone into the bin. The TSA agent motions for Willow to walk through the metal detector. Once through, she turns to find Autumn standing firm in line, “Autumn, come on!”

“Willow, you need to do this alone. I’ll wait here. Go get him!” Autumn blows her a kiss. Willow smiles, bites her lips, and turns away. She grabs her shoes and takes off running towards the gate.

“Last call for flight AA100 with direct service from Denver to San Francisco,” a woman speaks into the intercom at the B7 service desk.

Willow runs to the service desk, her shoes still in her hands. She approaches the woman, “Excuse me, ma’am. Is the plane boarded already?”

“They’re closing the gates any second now. Is this your flight?”

“Oh. OK. Um, no. No, it’s not my flight. I just…thank you.” Willow hangs her head as she walks away from the service desk. She meanders towards the window and plops down in front of it. She slides her shoes back on as a flight attendant closes the B7 gate. Willow sighs. I’m too late. She watches as Jamison’s plane slowly backs away from the gate and rolls away. Tears begin to roll down Willow’s cheeks.

“Willow?” A voice from behind calls. She turns to see Jamison quickly approaching. He drops his bags to the ground. She stands and sprints towards him, the tears flowing.

“Jamison!” She leaps into his arms. He wraps in her a tight hug and lifts her off the ground, spinning her in a circle. After a complete revolution, he sets Willow back on the ground. A small smile creeps onto his lips. Willow slides her hands behind Jamison’s head and pulls him down into a kiss. Butterflies dance in Willow’s stomach. She feels fire creeping through her body. Jamison cups Willow’s face in his hands as their kiss grows heavier.

“Jamison, I love you,” Willow whispers as she pulls away from their kiss, “I’m so sorry.”

“I love you too, Willow. Don’t apologize. We’re here now,” Jamison plants one last soft kiss on her lips before pulling away from her.

“You missed your flight,” Willow holds Jamison’s hands in hers.

“No, I didn’t. I boarded it and something didn’t feel right so I got off. I knew I was making a huge mistake. I couldn’t move to California knowing I was leaving you behind. You’re my better half, Willow. I can’t be anywhere you aren’t. I’m staying in Colorado.”

“Are you still going to go to grad school?”

“I’m going to stay at Rocky Mountain University. With you,” Jamison bends down and touches his lips to Willow’s forehead.

“I love you. So much,” Willow smiles up Jamison.

“I love you too, Willow,” Jamison reaches into his pocket, “I think this is yours.” He opens his hand to reveal a white gold diamond pendent.

Willow covers her mouth with her hands, her eyes wide with surprise. She gasps, “where did you find it?”

“After our argument the other day, I felt really guilty and really shitty about how things ended. So, I went back to the bar. I found the necklace on the sidewalk. I knew it was yours. I went to give it back to you, but when I went in the bar I saw you kissing that jackass on the dancefloor. I couldn’t handle seeing you with him so I just went home. I was going to mail it back to you once I got to California.”

“Thank you so much for finding it, Jamison. I thought I’d lost it forever.”

“You’re welcome, Willow. May I?” Jamison holds the clasps of the necklace out to Willow. She nods and turns her back to him. He delicately places the necklace around her neck. Willow turns to face him once more. Jamison grabs her hips and pulls her to him. His eyes focus on hers as he strokes her cheek gently with his thumb. He smiles at her as he focuses on her lips. Willow’s pupils dilate.

“Thank you for coming back, Jamison.”

“I can’t be without you, Willow. I love you,”

“I love you too, Jamison,” Willow closes the distance between them and presses her lips against his. Euphoria spreads from Willow’s head to her toes as she holds Jamison in her arms. Her heart beats against her ribcage. The butterflies continue to dance happily in her gut. She can’t help but smile as she kisses Jamison in the middle of the airport. The rest of the world disappears around him because she is home in his arms. For the first time in her life, she is exactly where she’s supposed to be.


Submitted: December 29, 2017

© Copyright 2022 marissajb. All rights reserved.

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