Liz tilted her head to the side and eyed him curiously. What the hell had he gotten her? “You didn’t have to get me anything.”
“I wanted to.”
She took the pouch and weighed it in her hand. It was really light. It didn’t actually feel like there was anything in it.
She pulled open the small pouch and tipped it upside down into her cupped hand. A small clear packet dropped out. Liz just stared at what rested inside with a numb realization settling over her.
Four tiny charms. A snowflake, tennis racket, the letter L, and a diamond.
She could determine the meaning behind each charm clearly. The snowflake for the first time they had been together during their snow day. The tennis racket and L were all too obvious. And then a diamond for her April birthstone.
“I didn’t get the locket part, because I knew you already had one. You used to wear it all the time. I thought you would start wearing it again if you had new charms,” he said with a big cheesy smile. “It looked good on you.”
She swallowed. Shit. No. This was . . . she couldn’t even . . . she didn’t know what to do. This was too much. Too soon. Brady. No, she didn’t want to think about him, but of course she couldn’t stop. She couldn’t wear Hayden’s charms. He was so thoughtful, but no.
Liz cleared her throat and tried to remember what she was supposed to say when she received gifts. “Thank you,” she managed to get out.
“Lizzie,” he whispered, staring into her unfocused eyes, “I love you.”
Her mind froze on those three words. The three words she had wanted Brady to say to her so badly. The three words that she had told Brady that she knew about in the car a couple weeks ago. Words she had spoken to Brady.
Clay’s words rang in her ear from the art gallery. But you don’t love him. It hurt to think about. Brady. Clay. Hayden. They all clouded in her vision and she had to remember to speak . . . to say anything in that moment. She just couldn’t say what Hayden wanted to hear.
“I know,” she whispered back.
Liz placed another bobby pin in her uncooperative honey-blond hair. She had been putting her hair up and pulling it down for the last thirty minutes, trying to make it look good enough to go out for her twenty-first birthday. Victoria had told her that a ton of people were meeting them. Liz was already tipsy from the Jell-O shots Victoria had made to pregame with, and she was kind of worried about her liver making it through the night.
The weekend with Hayden had gone by so fast, despite the mess-ups. It was as if every time he did something good and cute and wonderful . . . it reminded her of Brady. And then there was Calleigh. Still, Hayden had tried to end their time in Charlotte as best he could. He had taken them to a little Italian restaurant called Villa Antonio’s that had spectacular food and a warm, inviting atmosphere. Then they had retreated back to the hotel for another night of fun.
What Liz couldn’t understand was how Hayden wasn’t upset at all that she hadn’t told him that she loved him. She just couldn’t seem to get the words out. And as with everything else, he hadn’t pressured her or made her feel bad. He had just smiled and kissed her.
She wondered how long that would be good enough.
With Hayden she just didn’t know. He always surprised her with the depth of his understanding.
At least for now he wasn’t pushing her. In fact, he was playing the designated driver for her and Victoria for the night. He had been planning to go out with them, but Victoria had put her foot down.
“You stole her all weekend!” Victoria said, shaking her head. “I didn’t even get a shot with her at midnight.”
Hayden shrugged and kissed Liz’s forehead. “She’s my girlfriend. I can’t help that I want to spoil her.”
“Spoil her. Steal her. Same thing,” Victoria said. “I’m going to spoil her tonight. And by spoil her . . . I mean steal her.”
Hayden raised his eyebrows. “You’re saying I can’t be with my girlfriend on her birthday?”
Liz rolled her eyes. Oh brother . . . this was going to go downhill quickly.
“I’m saying that you already spent time with you girlfriend for three whole days. I want to spend time with my best friend, and I don’t need some uptight guy cramping my style. This is about Liz and needing some quality girl time. With me! Don’t worry, Lane,” Victoria said, patting his shoulder. “I’ll take real good care of your girl. I’m super responsible.”
“Oh dear Lord, you’re going to end up in jail!”
Liz laughed and shook her head. “Ye of little faith! Vickie doesn’t get caught.”
“Stop calling me that!” she snapped.
They laughed then, but Hayden had eventually agreed to sit this one out. As much as they bantered, Liz didn’t think Hayden actually wanted Victoria to dislike him.
“Are you ready, bitch?” Victoria called from the end of the hall. Liz blew her hair out of her face and shrugged. It wasn’t getting any better than this.
“I love when you dress like a slut,” Liz said when she walked out to see Victoria in a red dress that sheathed her voluptuous frame and mile-high spiked heels. She was busting out of her top and her already thick makeup was darkened and heavy, with bright red lipstick to match.
“What? This is like every day,” Victoria said with a wink.
“At least you look fabulous on your birthday.”
“Is that a compliment?” Liz asked, glancing down at her outfit. She had chosen a short lace dress in white with skinny straps that cut down into an eye-catching square neck courtesy of her balconet bra. She knew she had a nice rack, but she didn’t normally show it off. Tonight was not one of those nights. Vibrant blue heels gave her an additional four and a half inches on her frame and accentuated her already toned legs.
“Don’t get used to it.”
Liz laughed just as they heard a knock on the front door. Hayden walked in without waiting for someone to answer, and Liz smiled brighter when she caught a glimpse of him. Clay had told her Hayden loved her over New Year’s, but it was different hearing him say it and knowing that he meant it. Whatever she was feeling . . . while it might not be love . . . it was definitely something strong.
“Ready to go, gorgeous?” he asked, pulling her into his arms and kissing her on the lips.