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“I’ll take the bill,” I say, defeated. The waitress gives me a look of pity as she lays the bill on the table. I pay it and leave.

I hate that I still have to walk past his studio on my way home from work. Or in this case, on my way home from being stood up. Sometimes the light is on in his apartment upstairs and I get the urge to set the place on fire.

Not really. That’s a little bit harsh. I wouldn’t burn his beautiful art.

Just him.

When I reach his building, I stop and stare at it. Maybe it’s worth walking an extra block or two from now on, just so I’ll never have to pass it again. Before I reroute myself, maybe I should leave a confession. I’ve been wanting to leave one for three weeks and tonight everything has lined up perfectly for me to finally be pissed enough to do so.

I walk to the front door of his building and stare at the slot while I reach inside my purse and pull out a pen. I don’t have any paper, so I dig around until I find the receipt from the fantastic birthday dinner I just shared with myself. I flip it over and press the receipt to the window and begin my confession.

I met this really great guy three weeks ago. He taught me how to dance, reminded me of what it feels like to flirt, walked me home, made me smile, and then YOU’RE AN ASSHOLE, OWEN!

I press the button on the end of the pen to retract it. I put it back in my purse. Oddly enough, getting that out on paper actually made me feel a little better. I begin to fold the receipt but flatten it back out and retrieve my pen in order to add another sentence.

PS: Your initials are so stupid.

Much better. I slip the confession through the slot before I give myself enough time to think it through. I take a few steps away from the building and bid it farewell.

I turn toward my apartment and my phone sounds off. I pull it out and open my text.

Lydia: Sorry! I got sidetracked and it’s been such a crazy day. I hope you didn’t wait long. Heading back to Pasadena in the morning, but you’ll be at dinner Sunday, right?

I read the text and all I can think is, Bitch, bitch, bitch, bitch.

I’m so immature. But come on, she couldn’t even tell me happy birthday?

God, my heart hurts.

I begin to put the phone back into my pocket when it sounds off again. Maybe she remembered it was my birthday. At least she’ll feel a little guilty about it. Maybe I shouldn’t have called her a bitch.

Lydia: Next time, remind me before I’m supposed to be there. You know I have my hands full.

Bitch, bitch, bitch, big huge bitch.

I clench my teeth and scream out of frustration. I can’t win with her. I’ll never win with her.

I can’t believe I’m about to do this, but I need a drink. An alcoholic drink. And lucky for me, I know just where to get one.

“You lied.”

Harrison is looking at my ID.

I assume he just noticed that today is my birthday and I wasn’t at all twenty-one when I walked in here with Owen the first time.

“Owen made me.”

Harrison shakes his head and hands me back my ID. “Owen does a lot of things Owen shouldn’t do.” He wipes down the bar between us and tosses the rag aside, but I’m hoping he’ll elaborate on that comment. “So what’ll it be, Ms. Reed? Jack and Coke again?”

I immediately shake my head. “No thanks. Something a little less assaulting.”

“Margarita?”

I nod.

He turns around to make my first legally ordered alcoholic beverage. I hope he puts one of those tiny umbrellas in it.

“Where’s Owen?” he asks.

I roll my eyes. “Do I look like Owen’s keeper? He’s probably inside Hannah.”

Harrison spins around, wide-eyed. I shrug off my insult and he laughs before returning his attention to my drink. When he’s finished making it, he sets it on the bar in front of me. I begin to frown, but he reaches to his right, plucks an umbrella out of a jar, and places it in the drink. “See how you like this one.”

I bring the margarita to my lips and lick the salt off first, then take a sip. My eyes light up, because this is so much better than the shit Owen ordered for me. I nod and motion for him to go ahead and make me another one.

“Why don’t you finish that one first,” he suggests.

“Another one,” I say, wiping my mouth. “It’s my birthday and I’m a responsible adult who wants two drinks.”

His shoulders rise with his intake of breath and he shakes his head, but he does what I ask. Which is a good thing, because as soon as he finishes making my second one, I’m ordering a third one. Because I can. Because it’s my birthday and I’m all alone, and Portland is way on top of the country and I’m way down here, all the way at the bottom, and Owen Mason Gentry is a huge asshole!

And Lydia is a bitch.

CHAPTER EIGHT

Owen

There’s someone here who belongs to you.”

It takes me a few seconds to adjust to the middle-of-the-night phone call. I sit up in bed and rub my eyes. “Harrison?”

“You’re asleep?” He sounds shocked. “It’s not even one in the morning.”

I swing my legs to the side of the bed and press my palm to my forehead. “Been a rough week. Haven’t slept much.” I stand up and look for my jeans. “Why are you calling?”

There’s a pause and I hear a clatter come from his end of the line. “No! You can’t touch that! Sit down!”

I pull the phone away from my ear to salvage my eardrum. “Owen, you better get your ass over here. I close in fifteen minutes and she doesn’t take last call well.”

“What are you talking about? Who are you talking about?”

And then it hits me.

Auburn.

“Shit. I’ll be right there.”

Harrison hangs up without saying good-bye and I’m pulling a T-shirt over my head as I make my way downstairs.

Why are you there, Auburn? And why are you there alone?

I make it to the front door and kick a few of the confessions that have piled in front of it out of the way. I average about ten most weekdays, but the downtown traffic triples the number on Saturdays. I usually throw them all in a pile until I’m ready to begin a new painting before I read them, but one of the confessions on the floor catches my eye. I notice it because it has my name on it, so I pick it up.

I met this really great guy three weeks ago. He taught me how to dance, reminded me of what it feels like to flirt, walked me home, made me smile, and then YOU’RE AN ASSHOLE, OWEN!

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