“Ugh!” I stood up from the table. “Can you believe her?! She’s just so…dramatic!”
“What’s so funny?”
“Nothing. It’s just…”
“Just? Just what?”
He laughed again. “It’s just that you are so much like your mother.”
“I am nothing like my mother!” I screeched, maybe a hair too loud, maybe a hair too dramatic.
He continued laughing. “The way your nose flares when you’re pissed off, or how you bite your bottom lip when you’re embarrassed.”
I stared at him with disgust. “I’m not going to listen to this. I’m going to get dressed.” Storming off, I paused halfway. “And I am NOT storming off like she did!”
Though perhaps I did slam my door.
Within seconds, my door was opened, and Tristan leaned against the doorframe, calm as ever. “Almost identical.”
“My mother uses men to forget her own issues. She’s a mess. Mike is just another man who’s going to be let down. She’s unable to commit to anything or anyone because she never truly got over my dad dying. Watch, she’ll probably walk down the aisle and have that poor guy thinking he actually has a shot at a happily ever after, when in all reality, happily ever afters don’t exist. Life isn’t a fairy tale. It’s a Greek tragedy.”
Tristan ran his fingers against the back of his neck. “But isn’t that what we did? Didn’t we use each other because we missed Steven and Jamie?”
“It’s nothing like that,” I said, my fingers tapping against my sides. “I’m nothing like her. And it’s really rude of you to even think something like that.”
“You’re right. What would I know anyway?” He frowned and brushed his thumb against his jaw. “I’m just the neighbor.”
“I…I didn’t mean it like that when I said it earlier.” I was the worst person alive, I was certain of that much.
“No, it’s fine. And it’s true. I mean, it was stupid of me to think…” He cleared his throat and stuffed his hands into his jeans pockets. “Look, Lizzie. We’re both still mourning. We probably went at this thing—whatever this is between us—in completely the wrong way. And I hold nothing against you for just wanting to be my neighbor. Hell…” He laughed nervously and stared straight into my eyes. “If all I’ll ever be to you is your neighbor, then that’s good enough for me. That’ll be enough. It’s a fucking honor to be your neighbor. But seeing as how I accidentally fell in love with you, I think it might be best if I clear my head and skip the birthday get-together tonight.”
He shook his head. “It’s fine. Really, it is. I’m just going to say goodnight to Emma and then head home.”
“Tristan,” I said once more, but he walked out of the room. I hurried into the hallway. “Tristan! Stop!” I jumped up and down like a child, pounding my feet against the ground. “Stop, stop, stop!” He turned back to me, and I saw the pained expression that I’d caused to exist within his eyes. I walked to him and took his hands in mine. “I’m a mess. Each day, every day, I’m a complete mess. I say stupid things like I did today. I make mistakes as if ‘mistakes’ is my middle name. I’m hard to handle, and sometimes I hate my mother because deep down inside I know I am my mother. And just like everything else in my life, that’s hard for me to deal with.” I held his hands against my chest. “And I’m sorry you had to witness the broken Elizabeth during dinner, but you are the one thing that makes sense to me. You are the one thing I don’t want to mess up. And you are so, so much more than just my neighbor.”
He placed his lips against my forehead. “Are you sure?” he questioned.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
“I’ll get there.” He hugged me, and I felt a little better already. “I should go get dressed.” I sighed against him.
“And you should come help me.”
So he did.
“Just for future reference, when I have a breakdown about my mother, you’re supposed to agree with me no matter how much logic I am missing.” I smirked, pulling my shirt over my head and sliding out of my jeans.
“Sorry, I missed that memo. Yes! Gah! Your mother, she’s such a monster!” Tristan made a grossed out face.
My lips curved up as I stepped into my dress. “Thank you! Now can you zip me?”
“Of course.” His hands landed on my hips before his fingers moved up and zipped my red, curve-hugging dress. “And what’s up with all that perfume she wears? Way too much Chanel.”
“Exactly!” I swung around to him and playfully slapped his chest. “Wait. How did you know what kind of perfume she wears?”
His lips found my neck, and he softly kissed me. “Because her daughter wears the same kind.”
I smiled. Maybe parts of me were extremely like Mama. “I should probably apologize to her for my freak-out, huh?”
He cocked a brow. “Is this a trick question?”
I laughed. “No.”
“Then yes, I think you should, but not until after you have an awesome birthday tonight. Your mom loves you and you love her. I think you’ll both be okay.”
I sighed, kissed his lips, and nodded once. “Okay.”