tagRomanceAnything for You Ch. 02

Anything for You Ch. 02

byevanslily©

Taking yet another glance at the clock on the kitchen wall, I drummed my fingers on the breakfast bar. This was torture. It'd be another twenty minutes before Drew came to collect me. Why had it only taken half an hour to get ready?

Of course, I knew why. Afraid I'd get held up at the shop at closing time, I'd set my alarm for stupid o'clock this morning so that I could spend an hour and a half in my tiny bathroom, bathing, shaving, trimming and plucking. Despite being absolutely certain nothing was going to happen, I still had this niggling feeling I should be, well... Prepared. Just in case.

But nothing was going to happen. Although Drew and I had spoken by phone a couple of times since Sunday evening, neither one of us had alluded to doing anything other than drinking champagne and watching pay-per-view movies. Which suited me just fine. Besides, it was a good idea to pamper yourself once in a while, wasn't it? Especially on your birthday. So why the hell did I feel so nervous? I'd been alone with Drew countless times before, spent many a pleasant evening in his company. This would surely be no different, just a change of venue.

"Oh, for God's sake..." I muttered, irritated by my own restlessness. And sliding off my stool, I strode purposefully into the living room, pausing to grimace at my reflection in the mirror above the fireplace. "Get a grip!"

There wasn't anything to be nervous about. I even looked reasonably okay, I thought, offering up a thank you to the goddess of good hair days. My dark, shoulder-length waves were curling in the right direction for once, and that new mascara I'd bought had actually delivered on its promise to lengthen my lashes. And further bucking the trend, I'd managed to iron the collar on my favourite white shirt so that it fitted against my neck and wasn't trying to crawl off down my back like it usually did. No, so far as outward appearances went, not bad at all. The rest, well...

The girl in the mirror grimaced back at me. For heaven's sake, Drew wasn't going to see the rest, so why worry? Everything was going to be fine. And for a moment, I was almost convinced—until the sound of a car pulling up outside made my heart skip a beat...

Though that was nothing compared to what it did when I hurried to the window to discover it wasn't Drew. It was my parents, already climbing out of their Volvo estate, the street lamp illuminating the small gift-wrapped parcel in my mother's hand.

"Oh shit!" I breathed, appalled by their spectacularly bad timing.

When Mum had called me on Wednesday to say they'd returned home safely from their cruise, I'd decided to say nothing about the fact that I'd be staying in a hotel on the night of my birthday. Worse still, I hadn't said anything at all about going out with Drew. I'd meant to send Dad a text message saying I was meeting up with some friends in town so that he wouldn't feel the need to pop over. How could I have forgotten?

Not much I could do about that now. But Drew wasn't due to arrive yet, not for another quarter of an hour. And already praying he'd be late, I hurried out to the hall. If he didn't turn up bang on time, there was still a chance Mum and Dad would be gone by the time he arrived.

"Happy Birthday!" Mum said brightly the moment the door swung open, wearing that slightly odd half-smile I'd come to dread. I could still remember how she used to smile, her whole face crumpling with pleasure. It felt like light years ago now. "Ah." The smile, such as it was, faded abruptly as she took in my appearance. "You look... smart." That too seemed to be about as much of a compliment as she could pay me these days. "On your way out?"

"Actually, yes," I said, feeling ridiculously guilty considering I wasn't lying. "I'm so sorry—I meant to let you know. And now you've come all the way over here..."

By now, Dad had joined her on the doorstep, his smile rather warmer. "Doesn't matter," he said cheerfully. "We only came to bring your pressie. June—" He gave my mother a meaningful nudge. "Give her the present, then."

"Oh." Looking flustered, she glanced down at the neatly-wrapped parcel she clutched against the lapel of her coat. "Happy birthday," she said again, holding it out to me. "It's just a little something we picked up in Barbados."

"Thank you," I said automatically, at the same time wondering whether there was any way I could get out of opening the package in their presence. "You shouldn't have."

"You're our daughter," Mum snapped back at once, her tone so brittle I cringed. "Of course we should."

I swallowed hard. Amazing—we'd arrived at a painfully awkward moment in record time. Maybe next year I should just cancel my birthday. "Do you want to come in a minute?" I mumbled helplessly. "It's chilly out here." In more ways than one.

"Just for a moment, then," Dad said, his cheeriness noticeably forced now. "Don't want to hold you up."

Defeated, I stepped to the side then followed them in, not bothering to check my watch again. It was a vain hope, anyway. Drew was never late.

"Goodness me." As my mother reached the living room, I could hear that she was trying to inject a little more warmth into her own tone. "What a lot of cards."

There were quite a few, I had to admit as my gaze followed hers to the mantelpiece. Thanks to Alice, of course, who'd been dropping hints to all and sundry for weeks. There was even one there from the postman who delivered to the shop.

"Twenty-five, eh?" I heard Dad say. "Our little girl, all grown up."

I winced again, wishing he hadn't felt the need to state the obvious. There was no question all three of us were now thinking exactly the same thing. "Oh, I'm not sure about that," I said breezily. "I don't think I'll ever grow—"

Bollocks, no...

How could I have given voice to the first thing that came into my head? "So," I squeaked, doing an abrupt one-eighty. "You enjoyed your holiday, then?"

"Yes, thank you," Mum said as though she hadn't noticed—though I knew she had. "Though it was very warm." She glanced up at my father. "Too warm really. I don't think we'd go there again."

"No." Dad shook his head in agreement. "Nice to say we've actually been to the Caribbean, though. Now, come on." He pointed at my present. "Aren't you going to open it?"

With fingers that suddenly felt like sausages, I started peeling back the pink floral paper, my heart sinking as the wrappings fell away. It was an ornately decorated wooden photo frame, a painted swirl of Hibiscus flowers circling the oval-shaped mount. The sort of photo frame one might use for a picture of a loved one or a child. The sort of photo frame for which I currently had no use at all.

"It's lovely," I said, attempting to relay just the right amount of fake enthusiasm. "Really pretty."

"It is, isn't it?" Mum agreed. "I hoped you'd like it as well."

As well. The moment she said the words, I knew she'd bought one for herself. And I could already guess whose portrait would be beaming out from the garish frame. Taking pride of place on her mantelpiece...

"Well, I s'pose we'd better be off," I heard Dad say as I carefully set my gift down on the coffee table, his voice sounding strangely far off considering he was standing next to me. "Don't want to hold you up."

"Oh. Right." Turning in time to witness him giving my mother another nudge, I experienced a surge of guilty relief. "No. I'll have to go in a minute."

"Where are you going, anyway?" he asked while I shepherded them back out into the hall. "Somewhere nice, I hope?"

Damn. He'd had to ask. "Out to dinner," I said, then added lightly, "with a friend."

"Oh, that's nice." On the doorstep, Dad bent to plant a kiss on my cheek. "Well, happy birthday again, sweetheart. Have a lovely evening."

"Which friend?"

I should've known that Mum wouldn't let me get away with such a vague reply. For a split second, I considered lying. "Well..."

But I was saved from answering. Upon seeing the approaching headlights of a car, all three of us turned and watched as a familiar dark Audi pulled up behind Dad's Volvo.

"Oh." Mum looked disappointed. "You're going out with him."

"Yes." I sent an apologetic glance in Drew's direction as he got out and closed the door, biting my lip when he raised a hand in acknowledgement. "Is that a problem?"

"No, of course not." Having audibly bristled at the challenge in my tone, she dropped her voice to a harsh whisper. "I just thought you might have had a date, that's all."

Or rather, she wished I had, that's what she meant. I was such a disappointment of a daughter. But before I could think of a suitably scathing reply, Drew was heading down the drive towards us, smiling as though he had no idea of the nature of the welcome awaiting him. I knew otherwise. These encounters were always the same—part of the reason I'd hoped against hope that my parents would leave before he arrived.

"Drew," my father said congenially. "Good to see you, my boy."

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Mum wince. Well done, Dad. Off to a truly excellent start...

"Great to see you too," Drew said easily, his smile broadening. "So did you have a good time on the cruise? You're looking very brown there, June, I have to say. It suits you."

"Oh, do you think?" Raising a hand to her cheek, she gave a startled laugh, clearly unnerved by the flattery. "Thank you. Though to be honest, it was too hot out there for me. And very humid..."

I found I was only half-listening as she began to prattle on about their trip, instead watching how she looked at Drew, the way she scanned his face, appraised the length of his body, the clothes he was wearing, the way his hair was styled. And the rest of us knew what she was doing, even if she didn't. Making endless comparisons. Speculating about a future that would never be. Formulating a thousand and one hypotheses, all based on a common theme.

I wonder how our Paul would've turned out...

I'd dared to hope it would get better eventually. That time was indeed a great healer—wasn't that what everyone said? Instead, for some aspects of her grief, the reverse appeared to be true. And with every passing year, this part was definitely getting worse. Drew was growing older, twenty-seven now. He'd had the chance to become a man, to have a career, have a life.

My brother had died, aged twenty.

"Well," Dad cut in, at last catching one of my increasingly desperate glances, "we really ought to get going so that these two can be on their way." He raised a brow at Drew. "I hope you're taking her somewhere nice."

Drew grinned. "Absolutely. Burger King or McDonald's. I'm leaving the choice entirely up to Sam."

I could've kissed him for the flippancy of his reply. "But you promised I could have a KFC!" I whined, pretending to pout.

It worked. Judging by the expression on my mother's face, she thought we were serious. And why wouldn't she? It struck me that she'd never have believed that my late brother's best friend was prepared to take me to the poshest hotel in Stow Newton for a night of unbridled passion.

"Fine." Drew made a show of rolling his eyes. "You'd do anything for a crispy strip meal and a box of popcorn chicken, wouldn't you?"

"Maybe," I taunted, meeting his gaze. But my attempt at innuendo backfired the moment I saw his speculative look and all at once, my mouth felt very dry.

"Popcorn chicken," Dad repeated with a disbelieving shake of his head, oblivious to my discomfort. "Still, it's your birthday, I suppose. Come on then, June."

And after a flurry of goodbyes, my parents left at last, leaving Drew and I alone on the driveway.

"She doesn't get any better, does she?" I muttered through clenched teeth, the sound of their car finally fading into the darkness.

"Oh, I don't know," Drew said, after a pause for due consideration. "She only looked this time."

He didn't need to elaborate. Left to her own devices, Mum would've quizzed him about his 'plans for the future' until he was forced to invent a reason to leave. "Oh God, I'm sorry..."

"Hey." I could hear the sympathetic laughter in his voice. "Come here." And a moment later I was enveloped in Drew's arms, tucked in tightly against him, my head pressed to his shoulder. "It's okay, you know that, don't you? I should be used to it by now."

I did know that. But what I hadn't known was how different this would suddenly feel...

Had I never noticed before how he held me, gentle but firm, as though he could protect me from all the world's ills? Did he always rest his cheek against my hair when he hugged me? And had I seriously never noticed how good he smelled?

Disorientated by the direction of my thoughts, I opened my eyes again, hoping that somehow that might bring me crashing back to my senses. It didn't. Being able to pick out the individual wool strands of Drew's favourite sweater—a sweater I'd bought him last Christmas—actually seemed to make things worse. "Thanks," I mumbled, feeling his arms tighten slightly as I spoke.

"S'okay. You all packed and ready to go?"

That brought me back to my senses. Somehow, I'd almost forgotten why he was there—and the abrupt recollection caused an odd squirming sensation, right in the middle of my stomach. "Er—yes," I said quickly, pulling out of his embrace. "'Course I am." I shot him a smile as I turned to go back into the house, not quite meeting his gaze. "Thank God I left my bag upstairs. I have no idea how I'd have explained that away to Mum, do you? And you can bet your bottom dollar she'd have felt the need to ask about it. She doesn't know the meaning of the words mind your own—"

"Sam."

I stopped short at the bottom of the stairs, aware Drew was right behind me. "Business," I finished lamely.

"Are you all right?"

What in the world was I supposed to say to that? How did I even begin to explain that ever since he'd made the suggestion that we spend a night together at a hotel, my sub-conscious mind—scrub that, my conscious mind—had been working on every possible permutation of how that might play out? That I was ninety-nine percent sure that I didn't want to sleep with him—but only ninety-nine percent sure? That there was this stubborn one percent that wondered, just wondered, what might happen if I did?

I spun on my heel, determined to put the idea of us going to bed together...

Well. To bed.

"Drew—" I faltered. But the way he was staring at me made whatever words I was going to use dry up in my throat. "Wh-what?"

He smiled. "You look beautiful." And he must've noticed my eyes widening, or maybe he actually heard the loud thunk my heart made when I recognised the compliment, for a second later, he added, "Not that you don't always look gorgeous. But tonight..." He let the sentence trail off for effect, long enough for a wash of heat to come surging into my face. "You look beautiful."

Oh God. Oh-God-oh-God-oh-God...

I turned and fled up the stairs. This had to stop, I decided, bursting into my bedroom and seizing my overnight case from the bed. It had to stop right now. I didn't need this—not from Drew. Clearly, he was still under the misapprehension that something could happen tonight and wasn't aware that I was ninety-nine percent sure that it wouldn't. No, make that a hundred percent sure. Nothing was going to happen. We'd already agreed, hadn't we? Because I couldn't afford for anything to happen.

No matter what he said, no matter what he thought, it would change everything. Although something had already changed, that much was obvious. The mere fact that we'd had the conversation, that we'd discussed the possibility had somehow changed things between us. And unless I acted fast, things would only get worse, not better. I needed Drew to be my best friend, not my lover. I couldn't afford to lose the security of his friendship. I couldn't afford to lose him, full stop.

"Drew," I began again, even before I reached the top of the stairs, "listen. There's something we need to get straight, okay? About tonight? You see, I think—" I broke off with a gasp as I felt a hand sweep mine away from the handle of my bag.

He grinned at me over his shoulder, already jogging back down the stairs with my luggage. "You think far too much. Come on, woman, hurry up."

I had little choice but to follow him, collecting my handbag from the table in the hallway before throwing on my jacket. And after taking a quick look around to check I'd turned everything off and that my curling tongs weren't going to set fire to the house, I drew a deep breath, stepped outside and pulled the front door closed behind me.

By the time I reached the car, he was already stowing my case in the boot. "Oh my God," I exclaimed, seeing that he was wedging it in beside a much larger, curvier case. "You've brought your guitar? Please God, no. What the hell did I do to deserve that?"

"Hey." Laughing, Drew slammed the boot closed. "I thought I could serenade you this evening. You know, as it's your birthday and all."

"No way." I gazed at him in mock horror, recalling the agony that was listening to Paul and Drew's band all those years ago. "Please, please, please tell me you're kidding?"

He pretended to look offended. "What? You mean I can't sing to you? You don't want to hear the sweet sound of my instrument? The gentle strumming of my magic fingers?"

"Magic fingers?" I repeated, sniggering. "You've got magic fingers?"

Drew gave a dignified sniff. "Well if I have, you're never going to find out now," he said before jerking his head towards the passenger door. "Get in, it's cold."

I did as I was bid, feeling oddly restless. Displaced, somehow. "You rushed me," I grumbled when he slid in beside me and started the engine. "I hate being rushed. It always makes me feel like I've forgotten something."

He raised his eyes heavenwards. "Okay," he began in the manner of a long-suffering husband as he steered the car away from the kerb. "Packed your toothbrush?"

I grimaced at him. "Yes."

"Got clean undies?"

"Ye-es." It was my turn to roll my eyes.

Drew shrugged. "Right—and I packed the condoms, so what else could you possibly need?"

"Drew!"

"Not that we're going to need them, of course," he went on, laughing openly at my horrified expression. "Sam—relax. I remember the deal here and I swear, nothing's going to happen that you don't want to happen, all right?"

Actually, no, that wasn't all right. He seemed to be implying that I might change my mind. "I'm not going to have sex with you," I said firmly, unsure even as I said it which one of us I was trying to convince.

He smiled, flipping on the indicator as we reached the end of the road. "I know, you said."

"I'm not!"

"I believe you, okay?" Drew was grinning now. "I get it. No sex. Mini-bar—yes, movies—great, room service—fine. But absolutely no sex."

"Good," I mumbled, wondering how long it would be before my cheeks stopped burning.

"Although I'm very experienced, you know."

That word again. "Drew..."

"And I'd be very gentle."

"Drew!"

He laughed as I buried my face in my hands. "Well... A guy could take offence, you know. Is it really such a bad idea?"

"It's a terrible idea."

"Because...?"

I sighed, letting my hands fall back into my lap. "Because I don't want things to change between us. I like things the way they are."

"Who says things would have to change?" Drew's tone was measured, calm. "We could make sure they didn't."

"Could we?" I was aware that my own voice held a note of hysteria. "See, I'm not sure that we could. Sex... Sex gets in the way of friendship. Everyone knows that."

He sent me a smile. "Well, everyone who's watched When Harry met Sally, anyway."

I pulled a face. "Do you think we could change the subject?"

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