She also has no idea that every time I look at her and have those feelings, all I see is my mother.
“Maybe you’ve just seen too many chick flicks,” I tell her.
“So you’re saying you have no feelings for me whatsoever?”
“I have a lot of feelings for you.” I nod to the bedroom. “I loved the way I felt on top of you. Underneath you. Behind you.”
She gives me a biting stare. Then she turns around and grabs the handle of her suitcase on the way to the door.
She opens the door, but before she can walk through, I race over and put my hand on it, pushing it closed. I cage her to the door between my arms and press my face into her hair. “Don’t go.”
“Why, Sawyer? Why shouldn’t I go? Because I signed your damned contract?”
I smell her. She smells of coconut shampoo and sex. A heady combination.
She turns around, putting our faces inches apart, mine hovering over hers. I want to lean down and kiss her. But at the same time, I don’t want to mislead her.
“You can’t do it, can you?” she asks. “You can’t admit you have feelings for me.”
When I don’t say anything, she spins around in my arms and tries to force the door open but she’s no match for my strength and the door doesn’t budge.
“Let me go,” she says.
“I don’t want to.”
She sighs and leans her forehead against the door. “See, I have no idea what that really means. You don’t want to let me go because it will look bad and the press might print something unfavorable about your love life? Or you don’t want to let me go because you don’t want me to go?”
I push away from the door and run a hand through my hair. “Fine. You want me to say I feel something for you? I feel something for you. There, I said it. But that doesn’t change anything, Aspen. Nothing will change anything. When the season is over, so is this. I can’t give you anything after that. I’m not capable. I’d hurt you.”
“But you’ll hurt me anyway. Don’t you know that by now? You’ll hurt me anyway.”
I pour myself another drink and toss it back. “Not as badly as if you stayed.”
“Maybe that’s not for you to decide. Maybe you should let me choose if I’m willing to risk it.”
I shake my head. “I can’t. We can’t. It’s not possible. I have nothing to give you. And believe me, you don’t want what I’d offer.”
She studies me for a minute. Then she pulls up the handle on her suitcase and drags it back into the bedroom. She stops in the doorway and looks back at me with sad eyes. “We wouldn’t want to ruin your precious reputation. You can take the couch.”
The door shuts, leaving me alone in the living room. I bring the bottle over to the couch, and as I drain it dry, I remind myself of all the reasons I can’t have the woman on the other side of the door.
It’s been almost a month. Four weeks without his touch unless it’s to keep up appearances for the press. And even then, it seems forced.
I sometimes go to games. We’re seen in public per the conditions of the contract. We occasionally pass each other in the night on the way to the kitchen for a drink of water. But what it comes down to is that we’re avoiding each other.
I know why I’m avoiding him. I’m mad at him. He went months without telling me the truth about us. But it’s more than that. I know deep down, I’m trying to distance myself so when this is over, it won’t hurt so much.
But those nights when we do pass each other in the hallway, I swear he wants to tell me something. I think he deliberately brushes against me just to be able to touch me. But then he pulls away, like touching me has hurt him. It’s like he’s afraid of me.
And the pile of cash on the kitchen table just keeps growing. Every week, he adds more grocery money to it. And every week, I leave it sitting there.
Sawyer and I not communicating isn’t the only thing that’s changed. Bass and I aren’t hanging out like we used to either. I know it’s harder since we’ve both moved into new places, but I miss him. He’s my best friend. I’m surrounded by lots of new people, yet I feel completely alone.
Some of those people, I’m going out with tonight. I’m meeting Murphy and Rylee for dinner while the guys are in Atlanta.
On my way to the restaurant, I avoid looking at any news stands. I’m tired of seeing the tabloid magazines that seem to always be showcasing our strained relationship. The irony is not lost on me. We aren’t even in a real relationship, yet it’s strained nonetheless. Oh, how the press would have a field day if they ever found out the reality of our situation.
Denver calls me at least once a week, asking if I’m okay. And I always lie to him, telling him everything is fine. But he knows better. He can sense it. And I know he’d be on the next plane to New York if he had anything to say about it.
Rylee draws me into a hug when I approach. Then she looks behind me. “I thought Bass was coming.”
I shake my head. “No. Something came up with Brooke. But he told me to give each of you his best.”
He’s avoiding me, too.
“Those two are adorable together, don’t you think?” Murphy asks.
I shrug. “I guess.”
As we’re escorted to our table, I can sense Murphy studying me. As soon as we’re seated and handed our menus, she asks, “You aren’t jealous, are you?”
“Jealous? No. I just don’t think their relationship is as genuine as it seems.”
“How so?” Rylee asks.
“I don’t know. I just think it’s moving too fast. One minute he didn’t even want to be her roommate because he wasn’t into her. And the next minute, he’s moving in. And now they’re joined at the hip. It just seems so bogus.”
Murphy laughs. “I guess it takes one to know one – bogus relationships, I mean.”
I stare down at the table and pick at an invisible spot.
“Oh my gosh, that sounded awful,” Murphy says, putting a hand on my arm. “I didn’t mean anything by it.”
“It’s okay. I know what this is. And you don’t need to apologize. You’re absolutely right.”
Rylee shakes her head. “What you have with Sawyer is not bogus,” she says. “You might have a contract with him, but everyone can see you have feelings for each other.”
I laugh. “Have you been paying attention? Have you seen us lately?”
“I have,” she says. “And that’s exactly why I know what you have is real. There is so much sexual tension between you two that it practically lights up a dark room. I don’t know what happened with you guys in Kansas City, but you’ve been different ever since. I can see you fighting your feelings now. I can see how scared he is. That man is seriously in love with you, Aspen. Surely you know that.”
My eyes go wide. “In love with me? You’re crazy.”
Murphy smiles across the table at me. “Take it from someone who knows. Caden and I fought our feelings for each other for a long time. You and Sawyer may have had more of an unconventional start, but I predict the ending will be the same.”
“The ending will be in October. Believe me, he never fails to remind me of that.”
“That’s a long time from now,” Murphy says. “A lot can happen between now and then.”
I shake my head, disagreeing with her. “He made it clear from the start that he won’t ever be in a real relationship.”
“Things change. People change,” Rylee says.
“Don’t give up on him,” Murphy says. “I can see how you love him, Aspen. Love changes people.”
“You think I’m in love with him?”
“Well, aren’t you?”
The waitress comes by to take our drink order, saving me from answering her question. I’m relieved. I’d rather not lie to her. I’m lying to enough people already.
Rylee orders a margarita and I decide I want the same.
“Just a water for me,” Murphy says.
The waitress walks away and Rylee pouts. “This is supposed to be a night out. What’s girls’ night without drinking?”
Murphy’s lips curve up into a smile that almost touches her eyes.
Rylee squeals. “Oh, my God! Really?”
Rylee all but jumps over the table to embrace Murphy in a hug when I realize what’s happening.
“You’re pregnant?” I ask.
“I am, but you guys can’t tell anyone. The press will have a field day and we’d like to keep this to ourselves for a while. We just had our first ultrasound yesterday.”
“Can I see it?” Rylee asks. “Do you have it with you?”
Murphy smiles deviously before she digs an envelope out of her purse and pulls out a black and white ultrasound photo. I stare at it and smile, like I guess I should even though I don’t see anything.
“Murphy! Oh, my gosh!” Rylee leans in close, so that only the two of us can hear. “You’re having twins?”
Murphy laughs and nods her head.
I take the picture from Rylee. “How do know that from this picture?”
“See those two dark spots?” she says. “I only had one of those when I got knocked up.”
I study the photo until I can see them. Then I look up at Murphy. “Congratulations! Twins, wow – you’ll be busy. I know Denver and I ran my mom ragged. But I can tell you having a twin is the best thing ever. They will be very close.”
“I hope so. I can’t wait. Caden is already doting over them and I’m not even showing yet.”
“He’s going to be a great father,” Rylee says.
“I think so, too.”
Murphy and Rylee spend most of dinner talking babies. Then Rylee apologizes. “I’m so sorry, Aspen. This must be boring for you.”