Moving Forward (Moving Neutral, Book Three) (8 page)

BOOK: Moving Forward (Moving Neutral, Book Three)
5.84Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub




Madison showed up first, doing a better job than Darby of keeping her glee over Tanner Cole’s presence to herself.

“Hey,” she introduced herself
to Tanner, biting her lip in this flirty, mock-shy way that had spelled disaster for just about any guy she’d met since we were about thirteen.

“Keep it together, Mad,” I whispered into her ear
as Tanner walked to the bar to get us drinks. 

“Why?”  She pouted.  “You made it pretty clear you weren’t interested.”

“I’m not,” I frowned.  “I just…”  My words trailed off.  Why exactly
I stopping her, anyway?

“Come on, Case,” she pleaded, opening her big blue eyes as wide as she could.
  “Can’t I have a rock star romance too?”

I scowled for a second, and then sighed.  I had no claim over Tanner.  I didn’t particularly want him dating my best friend, but who was I to try to stop it? 

Better Madison than Darby, at least. 

I said.  “But don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

“Warn her about what?”  Tanner came back to us, followed by a waitress in a black dress carrying a tray of drinks. 

I squinted at the bar, avoiding his question.  There were at least twenty people clustered around it, waiting for cocktails.  “How’d you get these so fast?”

Tanner looked at me like I’d said something hilarious.  “Oh, these?  I just told them I had a hot date with Blake Parker’s girlfriend,” he grinned, motioning for the waitress to set them on the table.  “But don’t worry, I told them I’d really appreciate it if they’d refrain from
calling it in to the tabloids — wouldn’t want their bar to get thousands of dollars of free publicity next week…”

“You’re impossible.”

“So you always tell me.”

“You didn’t really tip off the bartende
r, did you?”  I was smiling now — I knew he hadn’t.

“Would I do that?”

I looked him up and down, forming a skeptical expression on purpose.  “Unclear.”

Tanner held up his hands, laughing.  “Snow, when are you ever going to just trust me?”  He turned to Madison for sympathy.  “I’ve been nothing but a perfect gentleman to this girl, and this is what I get in return.”

I looked down at my phone for Liv, trying not to scowl.  Watching Tanner and Madison flirt all night was going to get pretty old, pretty fast.

To my surprise, I had a new text, and it wasn’t from

Still up for celebrating
Blake’s text read. 

I felt my breath catch in my throat.  I reached for one of the drinks that the waitress had brought over, feeling my fingers shaking.

, I texted back. 
When and where?

I looked up for a second.  Tanner and Madison were deep in conversation already, and she was playfully poking his arm in response to some joke I hadn’t heard.

My cell phone buzzed. 
7th and Bleecker in an hour?

We were only about ten blocks away.  I could stay for a drink and meet Blake with plenty of time.

, I typed. 
See you then.

I looked up, and caught Tanner watching me, an expression on his face that I couldn’t read. 

“Sorry about that,” I said, forcing a smile.  “Liv’s running late.”


Chapter Eighteen


Fifty-five minutes later, I was standing on the corner of Seventh Avenue and Bleecker Street, tugging on Darby’s coat for warmth, just as it started to snow.

I couldn’t help smiling.  As
kids, Madison and I had made the most elaborate plans for snow days, and somehow the excitement of the first snow of the year had never totally faded.  Looking around at all the holiday decorations lining store windows and streetlights, I started to feel like a kid again.

“Hey,” a familiar voice behind me sent a wave of warmth down my body.  “Sorry I’m late.”

I smiled, and turned around to face Blake’s blue eyes, his hair wet with snowflakes, standing right behind me.  “You’re not late,” I smiled, wanting to reach up and kiss him right there.  “I just got here.”

“You look freezing.”  He wrapped
an arm around my shoulders, and I inched my body closer to his for warmth.  “So,” he grinned, “you managed to survive your first semester of college.”

“Piece of cake,” I
smiled up at him.  For a moment, I let myself hope that we were finally on the same page.  “So, how are we celebrating?”

“Well,” Blake rubbed his hand against my shoulder.  “In honor of how we met, I thought maybe I should take you out for coffee,” he grinned.  “But since things are, um, different now…”

“No coffee?”             

“I thought maybe… champagne?”

I cracked a smile.  “Champagne sounds good,” I looked down the street, at the various restaurants and bars that were still open.  “Where to?”

“This way,” Blake said, taking his arm off my shoulder and leading me down a side street that appear
ed, as far as I could tell, to be lined with nothing but apartment buildings.

As we got almost to the end of the block, he stopped in front of the door to a townhouse.

“Where are we going?” I asked, looking from Blake to the door, confused.

So, actually,” he looked at me shyly, almost embarrassed.  “Um… We’re here.”

I looked at the door, and then back at Blake, and then back at the door again.

“Please tell me,” I whispered, “that you didn’t buy a townhouse?”

He looked at me sheepishly.  “I didn’t buy a townhouse?”

I threw my head back, laughing.  “Blake Parker, tell me the truth.  Do you own this building?”

He slipped a key out of his pocket and unlo
cked the front door.  “No, Case,” he said with a half-smile.  “I do not own this building.”

— we’re breaking and entering?” 

“Not exactly,” Blake pulled the door open and held it for me, slipping my coat of
f my shoulders with one hand. 

“Housesitting?” I squeaked.

“Case, I don’t own the building,” he said, leading me down a small hallway, tastefully decorated with sparse, contemporary furniture.  “I just rented it,” he shrugged his shoulders, “for the rest of the school year.”

I looked around.  We were in an entryway,
and I could just see the living room and kitchen through the doorway.  Next to us was a library, the shelves scattered with textbooks and modern hardcovers. 

“You went from a dorm room to this?”

“Come on,” Blake led me down the hall, away from the library and toward the kitchen.  “No, Case.  I went from my own house and car and job… to a dorm room.  With a roommate.  And it turns out that wasn’t a great fit.”

Of course it wasn’t.
  I sighed, taking a seat at one of the metal barstools next to his kitchen counter. 

“Why didn’t you get a place closer to school?”

Blake looked at me sadly.  “Case, when I got back—” he paused, cutting himself off.  “Do you really want to talk about this?”

I didn’t.  I did.
  I nodded.

Blake paused, looking at me sadly.  “
I went back to New York a couple days after our fight, and I wasn’t sure if I was even going to go back to school.  I spent a lot of time thinking about how we’d gotten here.”  He looked at me, his eyes gentle but sad.  “I was trying to figure out whether I’d decided on Columbia because of me… or because of you.”

My voice came out a whisper.  “And?”

“I don’t know, Case.  I still don’t really have any answers.  But I figured if I was going to stick it out here for the year, I didn’t want to feel like college had taken over my life.  I wanted some distance, you know?  No student center, no roommate.”

I looked at Blake sadly.  “For the year?”

He shrugged his shoulders.  “Who knows?  Maybe I’ll go home to L.A. and won’t make it back for the spring.  Maybe I’ll stay here and get a Ph.D. in Astrophysics.  I’ve got some stuff in the works, but I’m trying not to think too far ahead.”

What stuff?
  I wanted to ask, but I sensed Blake didn’t want to go into any more detail.  I decided to let it go.

“So, for our
celebration,” I said, trying to lighten the mood.  “Where are your glasses?”

He gestured to a cupboard, and I stood on my tiptoes to
reach two champagne flutes that looked like they’d never been used. 

“Pour away,” I walked over and set them
next to him on the counter.  “Unless you want to give me a

“Don’t tempt me,”
Blake grinned, and I could have sworn I saw him blush.  He reached into the refrigerator and pulled out a bottle, unwrapping the foil around the cork.

“Should I duck?” I giggled as he started to ease the cork open.

“Nah,” he didn’t look up at me.  “I’m good at this.”

” I grinned, pulling myself onto the counter and sitting with my legs over the edge.  “If you don’t wind up playing guitar or graduating from college, you might have an illustrious career ahead of you as a waiter.”

I bit my tongue, wondering if it was the wrong thing to say, but when Blake looked up, he was
still smiling.

“You know what they say,” he said, a glint of sarcasm in his eyes.  “Dream big.”

The cork popped.  I was suddenly aware of how alone Blake and I were, and I felt shivers down my spine.

He walked over to where I was sitting on the
counter, so close that my knee brushed against his side.

“So, um…” I held out
my glass, biting my lip as he poured from the bottle. 

“So,” he smiled at me, not moving away.  He set the bottle on the counter behind me and touched his glass to mine.  The small, delicate clinking sound seemed to echo
in the empty room.

I took a sip.

“I like this dress,” Blake said, his hand brushing slightly against my leg. 

I felt
shivers run down my spine, and inched closer to him.  I was suddenly glad it was the first thing I’d found in my closet. 

“Yeah?” I
giggled.  “I’ll tell Lauren you approve.”  Blake took another step forward, his face only inches from mine.

y,” he said, his voice a whisper, like it was a relief to say my name.  He set the untouched glass down on the counter and I felt his other arm wrap around me, pulling me closer to him. 

I looked up into his eyes, tender and full of hesitation. 

“I’m sorry,” I said quietly.

“For what?”

His eyes were so blue I could get lost in them.  I felt that familiar feeling with Blake, like being with him was drowning, like I might never surface again. 

“For making everything more complicated

He blinked, and I
saw confusion flicker across his face.  “You haven’t,” he said, his grip tightening on my hip.  I felt his other hand slide into my hair, and I held my breath.

“I’m about to,” I whispered, tilted my head, and kissed him.



Chapter Nineteen


It was like setting a match to a firecracker.

In an instant, I felt all of Blake’
s restraint fall away as he kissed me back hungrily.  I felt light-headed as I pressed myself against him, wrapping my arms around his neck and letting my fingers bury themselves in his hair. 

“Casey,” he breathed, his li
ps finding their way to my neck.  His other hand slid along my back greedily, finding its way under the strap of my dress. 

I threw my head back,
giving into the moment, not certain how long it would last.  I felt his teeth scrape along my neck, like he wanted to devour me, like he couldn’t get enough either. 

I slid my palm underneath his shirt, hearing his breath catch in a quick gasp as I ran my fingers over his chest. 
His palm grazed my cheek, tilting my face toward his so he could kiss me again.

He tastes like champagne
, I thought, feeling drunk on the contact between our bodies. 
There’s no question,
I thought to myself. 
Where Blake Parker is concerned, I’m an addict.  There’s never enough.

I love you,
I wanted to say, but it was more than that.  I was intoxicated with him.  I needed more, I needed all of him, and I needed it that second.  I thought about the last time we’d been together, and for a moment, it was like nothing had changed.

“Blake,” I whispered, hoping that he
could hear what I was trying to tell him.

I grabbed at the bottom of his shirt and pulled up, pressing my body against his.  There
was nothing but warm skin between us, and he shuddered against me, gripping my arm so tightly that it almost hurt, but all I could think was
more, more, more

He pushe
d back, his body between my knees, and pressed me back into the counter.  I pulled him toward me, not paying attention to anything but the feeling of his chest against mine, his arms around me.

I arched my back, taking one arm from around his neck and putting it behind me on the counter, trying to brace my body against his. 

My palm slid on the counter’s smooth surface, unsteady as I rested my weight on it.  Finally, it stuck in a spot, and I leaned towards Blake, pressing my lips into his neck.

And then, suddenly,
my hand slid backwards, hitting the champagne glass that I’d abandoned moments before, sending it flying off the countertop.  Before I could reach out to grab it, it shattered on the ground beside us.

We both

Blake’s eyes met mine, and it was like someone had flipped on a light switch
in the room.  A second before, his eyes had been wide and dark and hungry, but suddenly he looked almost guilty.

I stared up at him, feeling all of
his restraint seep back in.  Looking down, there were shards of glass surrounding us on the floor.

Well, there’s a metaphor
, I thought to myself, trying not to laugh bitterly.  I felt Blake’s hand unclench from my hair.

“Case, I’m so sorry,” he said, pulling his body back from mine.  He looked down at the ground, not meeting my eyes.

I wanted to cry.  “For what?”

“I promised myself
—” he said, looking down at me tenderly, but unmistakably full of regret.  “I thought we could just be friends.”

Tears stung my eyes.  If being with Blake was like a drug, this was the aftermath of an overdose.  “Why?” I asked, gritting my teeth so I wouldn’t cry. 

He pulled back, wrenching himself away from me.  Goosebumps prickled my arms as he stared at me, like he didn’t trust himself to get any closer. 

“Casey,” he said, his voice dark and firm.  “I can’t.  I’m not doing this, not again.”

I felt my stomach heave, like all the air had been sucked out of me.  Why did I keep doing this to myself? 

Blake Parker might love me, but half the time it felt like he didn’t even like me
very much.

“Fine,” I hissed, eyes flashing.  “Neither am I.”

And then… maybe I shouldn’t have said it, but I did.  I’d hurt Blake, but he’d broken my heart.  Again and again and again.

“Casey, listen—

“You don’t get it,” I said
, staring down at him with as much force as I could muster.  “Yeah, I did some shitty things.  I should have told you about Tanner.  I should have told you I knew who you were when we met.  I know I lied.”  I took a deep breath, standing up as straight as I could.  “But what you did was worse,” I stared at him, my lip starting to tremble.  “You walked out on me
ten minutes
after having sex for the first time.”

And there.  It was out.

Blake’s eyes softened, and the defensiveness I’d seen in his face a few minutes before seemed to ease away. 

“Casey, I
—”  He moved across the room closer to me, and it took every instinct I had to take a step back. 

t,” I said, holding up my hand.  “I know what I did was wrong, but did I really deserve

“No,” he
exhaled.  “You didn’t deserve that.  You have no idea how much I’ve hated myself for doing that to you.”

He moved another inch, so close that I could feel the warmth of his body next to mine.

I’d missed him so much.

But w
e were just going in circles, again and again.

It c
ame into focus so clearly, and I realized… it had been obvious all along.  Tanner knew, Lauren knew, the tabloids knew.

We were never going to get past this.

“Then I guess we’re at an impasse,” I said, my anger tinged with sorrow this time.  My eyes focused on Blake, wet with tears.  “You can’t keep doing this to me, Blake.  It’s not fair.”

No matter how hard I tried, no matter how much I kept picking up the pieces… it was
over.  Ever since Blake had walked out of his house in Santa Monica.  Ever since I’d told him that I’d never heard of Moving Neutral. 

We kept trying to make our way back to each other, but it was the same patterns, the same moments, over and over.  We kept repeating them because there was no place else to go.

Blake looked back at me, his face mirroring the same pain that I felt.  

But there was nothing
else we could say. 

I’m going.”  I was surprised at how calm my voice sounded. 

I took one last look at Blake,
taking in the blue eyes that I’d stared at through magazine photos and album covers.

Then, with
a step forward, I wrapped my arms around his shoulders and kissed him one last time.

“I love you,” I whispered, burying my face in his neck.  “I love you so much.”

And then I crossed the room, my heels crunching on the tiny shards of broken glass.

” I heard his voice behind me. 

I didn’t stop.  I didn’t turn back. 

They’re words
, I thought to myself, remembering what Blake had said to me in Los Angeles. 
They don’t change anything.

I pulled open the door and walked out into the street, the flurry of snow catching me off guard, my breath
white in the frigid air. 

I’d left Darby’s coat inside,
but there was no way I was going back for it.  Wrapping my arms around my body, I ran out into the street, towards a yellow taxi that was just turning the corner.

en seconds later, I was hurtling up Sixth Avenue towards Columbia.

And away from Blake Parker, who’d broken my heart for the very last time.

BOOK: Moving Forward (Moving Neutral, Book Three)
5.84Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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