I hitched the box on my hip and knocked on the familiar door, which opened before my hand returned to my side.
Zebra print. Should have made a bet with Kash.
Judy stretched her arm, her face twisted in a seductive smile, silk kimono sliding off one shoulder. “Why, hello, Luke.”
“Special delivery,” I said, amused. “Where do you want it?”
“Anywhere you’ll give it to me,” she said, grabbing a handful of my shirtfront to drag me inside.
And with a laugh, I let her.
“What in the world did that hydrangea ever do to you?”
When I looked up, Ivy was smirking at me from the other side of my table. I’d been too busy fuming to notice her approach.
“Guess it was just too pretty,” I said, snipping a branch and depositing it in the water bucket.
“Like somebody else we know,” she teased.
“I can’t imagine what you mean, Ivy Parker.” Snip. Dunk. Fume.
She gave me a look as she picked up a pair of shears. “Tess, it’s been ten years. You haven’t even seen him in five.”
“I know,” I huffed.
“Surely you can’t still be mad.”
I plunked my shears down on the table and gave her a look right back. “I’m not. Honestly, I haven’t even thought about it in years.”
Ivy gave me a look.
“I mean it. Honestly, it was a relief when he moved away. I’m not mad he forgot about the kiss. Annoyed maybe. Irritated? Sure. But the truth is, Luke acted exactly like I should have expected him to. And him forgetting the kiss busted my rose-colored glasses. I saw every shitty thing he did, and that was all I could see.”
“Can see,” she corrected lightly, snipping a branch.
“He’s just so…” Arrogant. Conceited. Vain. Maddening. “He’s so completely Luke. He hasn’t changed a bit. In fact, I think the years have made him worse.”
“Or made you more grumpy.”
“I’m glad to hear you admit you’re not mad he forgot he kissed you when you were sixteen. Otherwise, I’d tell you to get yourself some real, adult problems.”
“The fact that he kissed me and pretended like I didn’t exist afterward doesn’t exactly help his case any.”
“No, I guess it wouldn’t.”
I eyed her. “But…”
“Well, Luke’s a lot of things, but an asshole isn’t one of them. I think if you told him, he’d feel bad. Don’t you?”
“Does Luke Bennet actually feel anything?” Snip.
She ignored me. “You didn’t even tell me until he moved to the other side of the country. Five years, you kept it from me, your best friend. You even let me fool around with him right there under your nose.”
I kept my eyes on my hands, which were busy. “Because it obviously didn’t mean anything, Ivy. Why make a fuss?”
“Because you were hurt. I wouldn’t have ever kissed him again if I’d known—you know I was about as serious about him as he was about me, which is to say not at all. I don’t even think I considered him when he wasn’t in the room. I didn’t even know you had a crush on him, and if I’d known I wouldn’t have ever fooled around with him again. Either I’m the most dense woman on the planet, or you’re better at keeping secrets than Batman.”
I laughed. “Trust me—it was my doing. I didn’t want you to know, Ivy. I didn’t even want to like him, never mind admit it out loud.”
“I could never keep something like that to myself,” she continued, disregarding what I’d said beyond a warming of her eyes. “I think I’d combust from the pressure. And especially if I’d just been through what you’d been through.”
Silence stretched between us as we both went back to that time. I’d always been reserved with things that caused me pain, preferring to shoulder the burden on my own. That way, I was in control. Telling someone else … well, that was harder. To open up and expose my softest places, my deepest bruises also left me open to getting hurt.
Like that night with Luke. When he’d somehow coaxed the truth out of me—the loss, the depth of my pain, the crushing weight of responsibility. When I lost myself in his arms, cried until the well dried. When I looked up at him and was cursed with the kiss of my lifetime, heavy and deep with emotion.
When he’d told me he was mine and asked me to be his.
And forgotten he’d ever uttered the words.
This was my most guarded secret, the one I’d never spoken to a soul. The humiliation was just too much to bear. And like I’d told Ivy—that night was the blasting of the iron curtain. The boy I had seen post-kiss was not the same one I’d thought I knew pre-kiss.
Ivy broke the silence, snipping off another hydrangea. “Really, I can’t believe you didn’t tell me.”
“I didn’t tell anybody. Why would I?”