Where We Belong
by K.L. Grayson
Expected Release on September 23, 2014
Cover Photographer: Tess J Photography
Cover Designer: Wicked by Design
Regret . . . she’s a snarky little bitch.
I’ve tried several times to regret the events that took place on June 5, 2008, but for the life of me, I can’t. I’d never regret the pain, the suffering, or the heartache because they ultimately led me to the place I am now. And I can’t regret the place I am now. What I still can’t figure out is this: how is it possible that the single worst day of my life inadvertently became the very best day?
Five years ago my life was irrevocably changed.
Seventeen minutes was all it took—
to lose my best friend…
to lose the love of my life…
Seventeen minutes was all it took for the seeds of hope—the seeds of my future—to be planted in the worst possible way.
My name is Harley Thompson, and this is my story.
“Holy shit that burns!”I crinkle my nose up at the fire the tequila leaves behind.
“Pussy.” Quinn laughs, handing me a lemon and popping one in her mouth.
Flipping her off, I swivel in my seat, watching all of the sweaty bodies fight for attention on the dance floor. Adam Levine’s seductive voice croons through the speakers, and I sway to the beat.
My eyes wander over to the pool table, landing on Ty. Reaching up, he runs his fingers through his shaggy, brown hair and laughs at something someone says. His dimples take root, and his smile lights up his face. I tilt my head to the side, a deep sigh rushing from my lips. Ty.
Tyson and I grew up together. Literally. Our mothers have been best friends since the day my family moved in next door to his when I was the ripe age of twelve months. Not only did we learn how to walk together, we went to preschool together, learned how to drive together, we even had our first after school detention together.
Tonight, we are celebrating because this morning, we graduated from college together. Me, with a degree in nursing, and Ty with his bachelor’s in biology, Pre-Med.
Quinn nudges my shoulder. “You love him. You need to tell him or you’re going to regret it.” She thinks she’s helping, but in all reality she is only making me wish for things that I most certainly should not be wishing for.
“Quinn,” I say, raising my glass to the server with a quick nod, letting her know I want another. “It’s complicated.”
She shakes her head with a sarcastic laugh. “Only because you’re making it. Why you two are in the friend zone is beyond me.”
The server sets down another round of shots. “Shut up and drink. To friends!” Raising my glass I tap it against hers, and down the shot. My head spins, signaling the beginning of a nice buzz. I wasn’t planning on getting drunk tonight, but after the bomb Tyson dropped on me a couple of hours ago, I need this.
Tyson is standing in the doorway to my bedroom, his hands tucked deep in his pockets. He looks off to the side. “Harley, we need to talk.” His voice is pained. He hasn’t made a move to come in. I can tell I’m not going to like this. My heart drops into the pit of my stomach. I can feel it in my bones–something is off.
“Okaaaay, shoot.” I train my eyes on the suitcase in front me and pull out clothes. He reaches for me, but I turn away and stuff some T-shirts in my drawer. “Moving back home is going to take some getting used to,” I murmur.
“A lot can change when you go away to college for four years,” he says, running his hand down the back of his neck.
“Yes, it does.” Opening the closet door, I stare into the dark, empty space. “I’m definitely finding a place of my own soon. Right after I find a job.”
“Brit and I decided not to stay at Wash U for medical school,” he blurts. “She wants to be closer to her family.” Ty wipes his hands on his jeans and fidgets as he sits on my bed. I take a deep breath and close my eyes.
Ty shifts toward me, reaching for my hand. This time, I don’t pull away. “Please look at me, Harley. I want you to understand what I’m saying.”
I blow out the breath I didn’t know I was holding and stare at my suitcase for a few more seconds before I look up. “Doesn’t Brit’s family live in New York?”
“They do.” He nods. “As soon as she told me she wanted to be near them, we applied to the medical school at Columbia, and we’ve both been accepted. We, um, we leave next week.”
“What?” I gasp, jumping up, my eyes nearly popping out of my head. “You can’t be serious.” My voice rises with each word. “Just like that?” I shake my head, refusing to accept this. “You’re just going to up and leave?” I shove a drawer closed harder than I intend, causing the mirror to shake violently. “One week? That’s it?” Tears gather in my eyes and I look away, blinking rapidly to keep them at bay.
I will not cry.
I will not cry.
“I’m sorry, Harley,” Tyson’s voice cracks. “I didn’t know how to tell you.” He sighs heavily, dropping his head. “I didn’t want to tell you.” His hands shake in his lap, and some of my anger dissipates. The magnetic pull we’ve always had draws me closer to him. My fingers itch to dive into his hair and pull him against me. To comfort him. To comfort me. Something . . . anything to slow down whatever storm he’s battling . . . but I don’t.
“Wow,” I whisper, sitting on the bed next to him. “I’m not really sure what to say.” I look up, and our eyes meet in the mirror. “Is this what you want? I mean, she isn’t pressuring you to do this. Right?”
He shakes his head slowly. “No, she isn’t.” I reach over and grab his hand, entwining my fingers with his, and he squeezes his eyes shut with the contact. “She’s my future, Harley,” he says, looking up. “This is my future. Please tell me you understand.” He clutches my hand, a silent plea for me to accept the path he’s chosen.
Don’t do this.
“Of course,” I whisper, my heart breaking at the lie. Unable to hold back the tears, I let them fall silently down my cheeks. My mind yells at me to say or do something to make him stay.
“Earth to Harley,” Quinn says, nudging me out of the emotional wrecking ball that was my morning.
I glance over at the pool table again. Tyson’s arm hangs loosely around Brit’s neck. Her arms are wrapped tightly around his body. Me. That should be me.
I watch as he wraps her perfectly straight blonde hair around his hand and tugs hers beautifully sculpted face up to his. He leans down, placing a gentle kiss on her pouty lips and when she smiles, I swear, I’m blinded by her sparkling blue eyes.
I, on the other hand, was cursed with an unruly brown rat’s nest on top of my head and a pair of mossy green eyes with a tiny button nose. Side by side, we are the princess and the frog. I may be exaggerating a bit. I’m cute, or so I’ve been told, but Brit is every man’s dream. She can have any guy she wants, but she wants Tyson–my Tyson.
I sigh as he pulls her in closer. And he wants her, too.
I hate her.
My relationship with Brit is rocky at best. She’s frequently upset with the amount of time that Ty and I spend together. Despite our reassurances that we’re just friends, she doesn’t buy it. On more than one occasion, she has tried to convince him that I was harboring secret feelings for him. She went as far as to accuse me of using our friendship as an excuse to spend extra time with him.
Tyson never believed her, but she was right. I do have feelings for Ty. I’ve loved that boy since I was nine years old. The minute he punched Jimmy Tallen in the nose for calling me ugly, my heart belonged to him.
Telling him about my feelings never seemed like an option. He never seemed to be into me, and I wasn’t willing to risk losing our friendship. So I sat back, watching quietly as he dated girl after girl. I nursed his broken hearts and encouraged him to get back on the dating wagon, as any good friend would do. Then Brit literally stumbled into our lives, and everything changed. I didn’t like it at all.
Tyson used to know everything about me. He knew all of my secrets, lies, and insecurities. But that isn’t the case anymore. He doesn’t know my biggest secret. He doesn’t know that I’m in love with him.
Something happened when he told me he was moving. I’m not sure what it was, but a puzzle piece was put into place and everything became crystal clear. I had to tell him. He can’t leave without knowing the truth. I’ve always been able to predict how Tyson will react to things, but I honestly have no idea how he is going to respond to this.
“One more shot,” I say, raising my glass to Quinn.
Her lips curl in a devious smile. “Someone is getting brave.”
“I need all the liquid courage I can get.” We tap and chug.
“It’s about damn time.” She has been trying to get me to confess my undying love to Ty for the past four years.
My head spins when I move to stand, but it’s not because I’m drunk. Confrontations have never been my strong suit. Not that I’m going to confront Ty in a bad way, but still.
On unsteady legs, I make my way across the bar. Ty is playing pool with Levi and Cooper, his college roommates. This is the perfect time to approach him since Brit is standing at an adjacent table talking to some of her friends. I would prefer her to not be present for this conversation.
Levi greets my intrusion with a hug. “Hello, gorgeous.” His hand roams down the small of my back, and I smack it away playfully.
Poking his chest, I give him a firm look. “No ass grabbing tonight,” I scold.
I lean against the back wall as Cooper sweeps the table and that’s my cue. Wasting no time, I kick off the wall and approach Ty. “Hey, got a sec?”
He cocks his head to the side, giving me a lopsided grin that makes my insides melt and my knees wobble. “Anything for you, you know that.”
Taking a deep cleansing breath, I calm my nerves. “Can we step outside? Maybe somewhere a little more quiet?”
Tyson purses his lips, tilting his head to the side, but he doesn’t protest. Instead, he places his hand at the small of my back and steers me toward the side door.
“I think there are some tables outside in the back,” he says quietly.
I nod once and continue for the exit. Tyson opens the door and a warm rush of hot air greets us. I look around, not finding any tables. Ty guides me to the right and toward the back of the building where we spot some picnic tables, while I give myself a silent pep talk.
You can do it.
What’s the worse that could happen?
Don’t forget to breathe.
We come to a stop by a table and I grab Ty’s arm, preventing him from sitting. “I think you’re going to want to stand for this.”
I know him all too well and I’m sure that within the next two minutes he’ll be pacing like a bull.
“Okay. You’re starting to make me nervous, Harley. Is everything okay?” He runs his hands through his hair, giving it that I-just-had-wild-monkey-sex look, and then he shoves them both into his pockets.
I take a deep breath and blow it out slowly. It’s now or never. “I love you.”
Smiling sweetly, he replies, “I love you, too.”
I shake my head, pinning him with my stare, trying to convey just how much my feelings have morphed from friendship into something more. “No. I love you, love you, Ty.”
At first he just looks at me, and I’m not completely sure he understands what I’m saying.
But then I see it.
Acceptance, relief, and fear flash quickly through his eyes before they settle on me. Written all over his face is the one thing that makes this all worth it: love. Pure love.
My body sags with relief. This was the right move.
My small bubble of hope is quickly popped as Tyson’s expression changes. His face turns cold. His eyebrows narrow. He shakes his head slowly. He looks over at me and then stares at the ground, clenching his fists. When his eyes land back on mine, the love that I saw a second ago is gone. But it was there. I saw the adoration in his eyes.
“Don’t leave. Please don’t leave,” I beg. My voice is panicky. Desperation takes over. I cling to his arms, trying to get him to look at me, but he shrugs me away. “Stay. Please stay. Stay here with me. I love you.” My words rush out, tumbling over each other. I just can’t stop them. “I know you’re my best friend, but I love you. I’m in love with you. I want to be with you, Ty. Give me a chance…give us a chance.” I reach slowly for his hand, needing to make some sort of contact, but he pushes me away. With his fingers tightly laced together, he places his hands on his head and paces in circles.
“I know I’m asking a lot,” I say, my voice thick with emotion. “I should have told you a long time ago, but I didn’t, and I can’t change that now.”
Tyson keep walking in circles, clenching and unclenching his fists.
I take a hesitant step toward him. “I know that this is incredibly selfish of me. I know I’m asking you to give up everything but—”
“I can’t believe this is happening,” he interrupts. I don’t respond because I’m not given the chance. “How long, Harley? How long have you felt like this?”
“Years?” he asks incredulously, his eyebrows arched.
I nod my head, swallowing hard, suppressing the tears threatening to fall.
His head drops down. His voice is quiet but full of curiosity. “Why now, Harley? Why not a year ago, a month ago, or hell, a week ago? Why now?”
“Because I was scared. You’re too important to me, Ty. ” My voice cracks when I say his name and a fat tear streaks down my cheek. “I didn’t want to risk our friendship. I didn’t want to lose everything we have if you didn’t feel the same way.” I squeeze my eyes shut and hang my head in regret. I should have told him sooner, but I’ve come this far and I’m sure as hell not giving up now. Wiping away the wetness under my eyes, I step in Ty’s path, preventing further pacing. “Would it have mattered? If I would have told you a year ago, a month ago, or a week ago . . . would it have mattered?”
His eyes are downcast, and his lips are tilted in a frown. My chest tightens. My hand twitches, wanting to touch him, but I don’t.
“Yes,” he whispers, looking up at me. “It would have mattered.”
“Then it matters now!” I snap. “If it would have mattered then, then it matters now. We can do this, Ty. You just have to take the chance. Please take the chance. Please,” I beg.
His emotions shift once again as anger and resentment visibly overtake the sadness. Reaching for his head, Ty grips his hair tightly and a deep growl rips from his throat. “Damn it, Harley.” His voice is low and hard. My eyes widen in shock at the menacing glare he shoots at me. “What the fuck do you want me to say to that? You’re doing this because I told you I’m leaving. Do you realize what you’re asking? You’re asking me to uproot my entire life. Do you know the work it took to transfer medical schools? And what about Brit?” His mouth parts and a look of horror overcomes his features. “Brit,” he mumbles to himself. “Fuuuuuck. Brit was right.”
He begins to mumble. I’m not sure if he is talking to himself or to me, but his words are like a punch to the gut. “Brit told me you had feelings for me. I didn’t listen. I defended you. I mean . . . I had hoped you did, but I didn’t know. I told her she was wrong and that she was just jealous.” He looks up at me, eyes wide with shock. “But she was right. My god! All those times I left her to spend time with you . . .” His words drop off but quickly resume. “I told her there was no way you felt that way about me because you’re my best friend.” He stops pacing and turns to face me, but his eyes are trained on the ground.
Silence consumes us. Tension fills the air.
“Ty, say something please,” I whisper. “Please tell me what you’re thinking. You’re my best friend, and I know you feel like I’m just throwing this at—”
“But you are,” he interrupts loudly. “You are just throwing this at me, Harley!” I grip my hands tightly in front of me, wringing my fingers together in pure desperation. My heart slams in my chest. I know he feels the same way. He loves me. I saw it in his eyes. I just have to convince him that this is right.
I wait patiently for him to continue, but when his hard gaze lands on me, my hope vanishes into thin air. My heart plummets to the ground. His lips are set in a firm line, and his eyebrows are dipped low in disappointment.
“I’m with Brit,” he states firmly. “And I’m not going to hurt her; I can’t.” He shakes his head. “She hasn’t done anything to deserve that…to deserve this,” he says, waving his hand between the two of us. The pacing continues, back and forth in front of me until he finally removes his hands from his hair and places them on his hips. He turns to face me. There is a finality in his eyes that causes my resolve to crumble. I throw a hand up to my mouth, but I can’t stop the sob that slips out.
“Harley . . .” He trails off; his eyes are searching mine, for what, I’m not sure. “Harley, I can’t do this. I’m sorry, but I just can’t.” He pauses again, taking a second to sit down on the table. Placing his elbows on his knees, he bends forward and lowers his head. His voice is so soft that I almost don’t hear his final words. “We need to step back and take a break. From our friendship, Harley . . . We need to take a step back from our friendship.”
I cry, and my body trembles. “No.” My hands shake, and my mind works furiously to find a way to fix this. “No,” I repeat desperately. “We don’t need to take a step back. We need to move forward.” I crouch down in front of Ty and grip his fisted hands in mine. “Please give me a chance. I know you’re scared, but I promise, you won’t regret it; you won’t regret me.” My eyes flicker across his face, pleading with him to take this leap.
He exhales loudly and raises his face. “I can’t believe you’re doing this to me. To Brit. Now. When I’m supposed to be moving to New York in a week. A fucking week, Harley!” Standing abruptly, his eyes lock onto something over my left shoulder, but I can’t tear my eyes away from him to find out what it is. “I can’t do this. I won’t do it.” His voice is laced with decisiveness and a cold shiver of realization trembles through me. “I’m leaving next week for New York. With Brit. It’s best for my relationship with her if you and I don’t talk . . . at least not until I can sort through all of this in my head.”
His words hit me like a knife to the chest. He can’t mean that. He’s just shocked. “We can’t be friends?” I hiccup, gripping my chest where I’m sure there’s a gaping whole from his words. “Please don’t do this. Please, Ty! I’m sorry.” I grab his arm, forcing him to face me. “I’m so sorry. Please forgive me, forget I said anything. I can’t lose you, I won’t lose you.” My tears fall freely. I’ve stopped wiping them away; there’s just no point.
I startle when I hear someone behind me clear their throat. I turn slowly and find myself face-to-face with Brit. I’m not sure how long she’s been standing there, but based on the look on her face, I’d say she pretty much knows what’s going on.
Ty moves to walk around me, and I quickly grab his wrist. “Please Ty,” I whisper. Gently removing my hand, he reaches for Brit, entwining his fingers with hers. Without a glance back, they walk in the door.
Slumping down onto the picnic table, I close my eyes, praying that this was all a bad dream and I just have to wake up. Realistically, I know it’s not, but there is always that small window of time right after something horrible happens that you feel like if you hope and pray hard enough you can actually rewind time and undo the damage.
I grip my hair tightly at the scalp and watch as my tears cascade off of my face and hit the table below. I’m not sure how long I sit but eventually I get up and pace the alley behind the bar, trying to wrap my head around everything that just happened.
What on earth have I done?
He can’t seriously end our friendship.
He can’t really walk away.
There is way too much history for him to do that. Right?
A gravelly slurred voice interrupts my thoughts. “Harley? That you?” The hair on the back of my neck stands up and I squint through my tears, trying to see who the drunken voice belongs to. Relief washes over me at the familiar face. I try to respond, but a deep sob comes out instead. He moves to my side quickly. “You’re crying,” he says, putting a comforting hand to my back. “Please don’t cry.”
I normally wouldn’t get this close to someone who isn’t Tyson or Quinn, but right now I need the familiarity. I need the comfort that he offers, and in a desperate move, I wrap my arms around his middle, bury my face in his chest, and cry like I’ve never done before.
The stench of smoke deeply rooted in his shirt fills my nostrils and the stale odor of liquor makes me sick as he whispers calming words in my ear. I should be worried. I’ve heard that he’s gotten into some heavier drugs recently, but I know I’m safe.
We stand there for several minutes, neither of us saying a word. His body sways slightly to the left. I grip him tightly to steady his balance and raise my face to his. “Are you okay?”
His red-rimmed , glossy eyes lock onto mine, but he doesn’t respond. I watch his expression change. A shiver runs up my spine as goose bumps take over my body. “Are you okay?” I repeat, trying to keep the fear out of my voice. Loosening my grip, I attempt to step back, but his arms tighten around me.
“You always smelled so good,” he slurs, eyes roaming my face. His hand slides up my back and to my neck. He wraps his fingers around my hair and tugs, forcing my head to snap back. Leaning into me, he runs his nose up the side of my neck and my stomach churns. “I would have given you anything. But I wasn’t good enough for you, was I?” I don’t respond and he yanks my hair again, causing my back to arch. “Was I?” he seethes.
I’ve never been in a situation where I feel legitimately uncomfortable in the presence of another human being, but right here . . . in this second . . . I am terrified. Adrenalin courses through my body. My heart slams violently in my chest and my muscles tense as terror washes through me. I squeeze my eyes tightly shut. A sharp pain rips through my scalp. My face smacks the ground, and a metallic taste fills my mouth.
Please God. Please let me survive this.
K.L. Grayson resides in a small town outside of St. Louis, Missouri. She is entertained daily by her extraordinary husband who will forever inspire every good quality she writes in a man. Her entire life rests in the palm of six dirty little hands, and when the days is over and those six little hands have been washed and tucked into bed . . . and the stars align, you can find K.L. typing away furiously on her computer. K.L. has a love for alpha males, brownies, reading, tattoos, sunglasses, and happy endings . . . and not particularly in that order.
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