Songs for this chapter are:
Never Forget You: Zara Larson & MNEK
Like I Would- Zayn
Lost Boy- Ruth B (I'm obsessed with this song)
I just felt my neck jerk when Dakota said that I left her and I'm wondering if my expression looks anything close to how I feel. I wouldn't be surprised if it did.
"What?" she asks, deadpan, as I continue to stare at her.
She couldn't possibly think it was my fault. I didn't have a choice.
There's no way she actually feels as if it was my choice to move away. I'm going to take a few moments to think about my response, I don't want to be harsh or say the wrong thing. This is a sensitive subject for her and I don't want to hurt her feelings.
I sigh, taking a breath as if it will fill my brain with the right words, instead of my lungs.
"I didn't want to leave, I had no choice," I keep my voice quiet, but I hope she can hear the sincerity in my words.
The guy at the next table looks up at us for a second, then turns his attention back to his laptop.
"That didn't make it hurt less. You left, Carter was gone, my dad-"
I grab both of her hands on the table and gently squeeze them between mine. I know what she's doing. She's upset about school so she's projecting her anger and stress onto me. She's always had this habit, and I've always enabled it.
"I wouldn't have gone anywhere if I had a choice, my mom was moving and I couldn't just stay in Michigan. You know that." I'm gentle with her, the way I would be a wounded animal lashing out.
Her anger is deflated instantly and she sighs, "I know. I'm sorry." Her shoulders slump.
"You can always talk to me about anything," I remind her.
I know how it feels to be a small person in such a big city. She hasn't talked about any friends except Maggy, and now I know she's friends with Aiden, for some awful reason that I have yet to figure out.
Dakota looks toward the door and sighs again. I don't think I've ever heard one person sigh so much in my life.
"I'm fine. I'll be fine. I just needed to vent, I guess," she shrugs her shoulders and I notice the goosebumps covering her bare skin. She has to be cold, wearing such small clothing.
Venting? Nice try, Dakota. That's not enough for me.
"You aren't fine baby beans," I bring up her old nickname.
Her wince quickly shifts to a shy smile and I sit back and let the familiarity of us take over. She's softening now, finally, and it makes me feel less awkward around her when we are like this. When we are us.
"Really?" Dakota's chair drags against the floor as she moves it closer to mine. "That was a cheap shot and you know it."
I smile, staying silent while I shake my head. I didn't intend to use the name to my advantage, not this time. The origin of nickname came out of no where. I called her that by accident one day, I honestly have no idea why, and it just stuck. She melted then and she's melting now. It just slipped out in the moment, but I can't say that I'm not happy when she leans her head against my arm, wrapping her hand around it. The silly, accidental nickname has always had the same affect on her. I've always loved it.
"You're so solid now, when did this happen?" Her hand squeezes my bicep and I feel a little shy suddenly.
I've been working out more, and I did hope she would notice. Dakota's hands run up and down my arm and I gently brush her curly hair away from my face.
"I don't know," I finally respond to her.
It feels so good to be touched. I had forgotten just how good it feels to have simple companionship, let alone actually feeling the touch of another person. A person who knows just how to touch me, just how to look at me.
I feel slightly embarrassed by her attention, but it also feels really good to have my hard work acknowledged. I've changed my entire body over the last few years, specifically the last two, and I'm glad she seems to appreciate it.
She was always the prettier one in our relationship and she knew it. I was the tall, chubby kid with a baby face. I had a nose too big for my face until I was about seventeen and I hated it. I was never the cool, confident guy. I would have given anything to be one of them, to not worry about the girls mocking my weight in the halls, to not hear my mom cry in her room when no one from school showed up for my birthday parties. No one except Dakota, always Dakota.
She's even more beautiful now, and I imagine she will continue to grow more and more beautiful as she transforms into a woman. We used to talk about who we would be as grownups in the naive, wishful thinking way that everyone does.
Everything seemed so different then, this idea that we could grow up to be anything we wanted seemed so tangible then. When you're immersed into a small town in the Midwest, bright lights and big cities seem so far fetched to most, but not Dakota.
She always wanted more, needed it. Her mother was an aspiring actress who moved to Chicago in hopes of getting into a theatre production. It never happened, the city stole her.
Yolanda Hunter was one of the few people who were too bright for the rundown town she grew up in. With dark brown skin and wild, natural curls, she was a force to be reckoned with. My mom told me stories about when they were in high school and with each one of them, I saw more and more of Yolanda in her daughter. But Yolanda didn't find herself in the windy city. It wasn't a fairy-tale, it waste anything close to that.
She became addicted to the late nights and the things that keep you awake during them. She never made it out and Dakota has always been determined to do what her mom couldn't- make it.
Dakota leans closer to me and I shake my thoughts of that woman. Her hair tickles my nose and I sink further back into the chair, wanting this moment to be etched into my mind. The loneliness takes it's toll on me sometimes. I'll never tell her, but even her simple touch makes me feel and that's all I can ask for.
"Tomorrow my meltdown will seem funny," she randomly says, bringing the conversation away from me. I'm glad. I tell her I agree and remind her that if she needs anything, she only needs to let me know.
We sit in silence for a few minutes before Dakota's phone starts to ring. I push a napkin around the table and then tear the fabric into little pieces. When a male voice sounds through the line she pulls away from me.
"I'll be there, save me a spot," she chirps into the phone.
She shoves her phone into her bag and stands to her feet.
"That was Aiden," she tells me, bending down. I think she may kiss me, so I lean closer to her. When she doesn't, I feel my cheeks burn as I watch her take a long slurp of her frappucino. My chest tightens in embarrassment.
"There's an audition and he's going to save me a spot. It's for a commercial or something. I gotta go, but thanks for the coffee. We need to catch up again soon!" She rests her hand on my shoulder when she kisses my cheek.
In a flurry, she's gone. That was weird. I can't stand Aiden. That was double weird. He's probably trying to convert her to the dark side. I'm onto him and I already miss her.
(Author's note: Tomorrow is my last signing in Russia :( I've had such a good time and have met some of the best people and seen some of the most beautiful buildings. My trip went so fast :( Next week, I'll be in Italy, then France, then Vegas! Will I see you there?? I'll be updating again Monday because I'll be gone all day tomorrow and I leave Sunday (and it's my bday sunday!) xoxo
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Book 1 of 2 featuring After worldwide fan-favorite Landon Gibson as he leaves Washington to navigate love and life in New York City. At the end of the After Ever Happy, Landon got married-but readers everywhere have been wondering who will get to ca...