“You knew this was going to happen, did you?”
Even before L and I entered the café, a bevy of girls were already following us. They were trying to take a peek of who I was, but I was covered by his security Dex, H’s hoodie, and my shades. But when we got into the café, there wasn’t any escaping it. I had to take off the security blanket.
I dropped the hood, just in time to catch L shrugging. I turned to the small crowd of girls forming outside of the café, and I smirked at the shocked look on their faces when they realized it was me. It was just a few weeks after H had come out to the public about our relationship, and I was getting used to the (unwanted) attention, as well as the death threats sent through Twitter. I almost wanted to delete my Twitter account, but as H said: “Do not give them the satisfaction. Don’t.” I actually do think I’m going to miss these death threats when they’re gone—if they ever will be.
And going out with L right here, in public instead of our previous house visits, it’s different. I think this is just going to add up to my death threats count.
“Well, we have to toughen you up against these girls,” Landon answered, holding up a hand. He went to the counter to order our coffees, and he waited at the bar. After a few minutes, the barista called out, “One Earl Grey and one hot chocolate for Layla!”
I winced at the name—it was T’s idea, a ‘ship’ name for me and Landon, one born from jest one night when he realized that L and I had really grown close and it wasn’t just a passing thing. H found the shipper name funny, especially after T said, “For the record, am still riding the Kayden ship. Just sayin’ that Layla is kind of getting along nicely.”
L slid my drink across the table, very nonchalantly, as I gave him a raised eyebrow. “Really? Layla?” All I got in return was a mischievous smile that makes me want to throw something at him. God, I wish we were at his place where there are a lot of pillows to throw at him. L picked up where he left off, saying, “They spot your weakness—say, not being to carry yourself well in public in the face of their scrutiny—and they will lunge at it.”
I took a sip from my hot chocolate and just sighed. After that night at the cabin in the woods, L has been this person who pops up and disappears in my life. He just resumed contacting me when he got too homesick for his own good. That was why I set up that diner reunion, and ever since L has been something constant in my life. He’s been pretty helpful too, in my dealing with the backlash of H going public about our relationship (like today, for example).
He’s a solid rock I can lean on. Well, another rock to lean on, because H is the solid rock to lean on.
“Danica called me up the other day,” L said, switching topics. I tried not to show him my irritation—after seeing L break down at the cabin, I prefer not to hear about Danica. She makes my heart ache because I could still feel L’s pain—from that night at the cabin and as I watch him trying to recover.
Does she know how much L has hurt?
“And…?” I prompted, and L peered at me with those gray eyes.
“She wants to meet up.”
I paused, studying his reaction. He looked loose and easy, like it was just an ordinary day to have his ex that he has been pining for call him up just out of the blue. He was smiling a bit, enjoying his Earl Grey, and as I was silent, he mentioned that he wanted a cinnamon roll.
“You’re asking me if I’m okay with it, or you’re just gonna tell me your decision?” I settled, trying to go easy on him.
“I told her she and I don’t have anything to talk about anymore. I know she and Daryl had broken up already, and while I’m not one for making assumptions, I’m thinking she wants to get back with me.”
I grinned. “Ooh, too much for your ego there, Petersen,” I teased. He laughed, and his eyes crinkling. I turned serious just as he did, and then he whispered, “But in all honesty, I’m okay. I’m already okay. I’m happy. And I don’t need her anymore.”
“Sure you don’t.”
He looked at me, frustration written all over his face. Cracks started to appear in his armor that he placed around himself. “Jesus, Kayla.” He ran his hands over his face like he was washing it underwater. When he emerged, the coolness that I saw earlier was gone. Back was the conflicted Landon that H and the boys and I had straightened out and nursed back to life.
“Shit, L,” I said under my breath. “I am not gonna let you backslide.”
“I am not backsliding, Kayla.”
I looked at him pointedly, narrowing my eyes at him. “You’re about to.”
L rolled his eyes, pouting. “It’s kind of scary how you know me so well.” I winked at him, saying, “Well, I’m named ‘Bestie’ with that smiley with two hearts as eyes on your phone, so I should know you very well.” I crumpled a piece of tissue and threw it at him, the ball hitting him on the forehead, and he was about to make one for himself when I stood up.
“Getting you a cinnamon roll. And in case you don’t know, it’s also to give you time to reconsider backsliding.”
He still threw the ball of tissue at me when I turned, as I felt this soft thump on my shoulder. When I returned, he had already finished his tea and was drumming his fingers on the table.
I passed him a fork, setting the plate of the cinnamon roll between us. We dug in, L still wrapped in his thoughts, and as we did this fork fight for the last bit of cinnamon roll, he said, “I’m not backsliding.”
I looked up and he held my gaze, and I saw the truth in his eyes. “Good. I’m not up for a trip in the cabin anytime soon because it’s getting kinda cold there right now,” I said, and he smiled.
“Stop it!” I shouted at L while laughing. He tucked me under his arm, rubbing the top of my head with his knuckles like I’m his little sister. He did stop and I emerged, pushing him playfully and he landed on his butt on the sandbox.
I watched him grab a fistful of sand but I shook my head, pointing to the little kids playing in the sandbox with him. “They are going to mimic you, so don’t you dare think about it,” I warned, and he rolled his eyes. He stood up, trying to catch his breath while brushing the sand from his butt.
After the coffee shop, L and I headed for a stroll in the park and then we found the playground. We were joking about Nerf guns, and that if we were at his house, we’re probably having a Nerf gun fight already. It was our thing—me, H, and L… the Nerf guns. It was chaos, every time there are Nerf guns and H and I in the same spot. In the absence of the Nerf gun, the playground was the solution.
I called off the playing, when I saw the time on my watch. “Hey, I need to get home to cook dinner for H,” I said, and L raised an eyebrow. “First time in what, six months?”
“What? H likes to cook,” I said defensively.
“He also likes being cooked for.”
“And I know that. Thus, cooking for him tonight.”
He peered at me, a serious look on his face, and then said, “Take care of your man, Kayla.”
I nodded, knowing that even if I don’t have to be told that, I still have to be reminded that even if H seems to have everything that he needs, he still have wants. And H, despite being so independent, likes being taken care of. Breakfasts in bed, ironed-out shirts, fresh rolls of bread with his soup… that sort of deal.
“Is there something I should worry about?” I asked him, and L shook his head, his face pensive. I think I should have asked him right there and then if there was any problem with H that he knows and H wasn’t telling me about it, but I didn’t know why I ignored it at that time.
There was a hole, a small one, and it got bigger each time I ignored it.
When L and I arrived at home, H was asleep on the couch, Ted on TV. I told L to head to the kitchen already to bring out the groceries we bought so I could wake up H. I knelt on the floor next to the sleeping H, gazing at his handsome, angelic face.
“I love you,” I whispered, and H stirred, a small smile forming on his face even if his eyes were still closed. He opened them sleepily, and he looked so sexy. Why did I bring home Landon with me right now? I am totally regretting that choice.
“You should check my mentions. I think you and Landon broke Twitter,” he said, cupping my face in his hands and leaning in for a soft kiss. I pulled him closer to me, my hand on his nape, wanting to feel him and hold him, but he pulled away.
“A wise guy once told me not to give those people the satisfaction,” I whispered, and he nodded, and he opened his mouth to say something when there was a loud clanging from the kitchen, like a pan being dropped on the marble floor and it rolled. H frowned at me, his question in those eyebrows, and I said simply, “Landon.”
“Oh, he’s here.” There was a certain lack of enthusiasm on his voice and I should have noticed that, but I choked it up to his just waking up instead of something else (like him wanting a break or something like that—if this confuses you, well… this occurred just a few weeks prior to him asking for one). Hayden stood up and pulled me to the kitchen, where we saw Landon desperately trying to wrestle the chicken we bought out of its packaging. H and I laughed, and he gave me a kiss on the forehead before going behind the counter to help H. L refused the help, pointing him to one of the seats.
“Your girlfriend is going to cook, so just sit there and relax.”
H held up two hands as if in defeat, grabbing on of the high stools and sitting there. I removed H’s hoodie and went behind the counter, standing next to L, and I gave H my best smile before taking my turn to wrestle the chicken. I grinned as L commented that even I don’t even know what to do with it, and I had to playfully shove him out of the way to prove my point that I could.
I heard H sigh, and then he said, “I shouldn’t worry, should I, guys?”
Both L and I looked up at him, obviously weirded out by his question, and L was the first one to break out of the surprise. “Okay, here’s the deal—after I say this, I’m going to forget that you asked that question,” he said, his tone grave and serious. “I love Kayla because she’s my best friend and she’s pulled me through some tough times, but she’s your girlfriend. She’s your soulmate. So yes, you shouldn’t worry.”
I could hear the irritation in L’s voice, as if he was really affronted that Hayden had even thought of it. L nudged me, and I swallowed the lump in my throat. I reached across the counter and held H’s hand. “You shouldn’t. And you shouldn’t let those people get into your head. Whatever they say, it’s not true. You’re my boyfriend—or if you want something cheesier, you’re the love of my life. Landon is like an adopted brother, both to you and me. Yes, you shouldn’t worry.”
Hayden looked at me and then at L, and then he let out another sigh. “I’m sorry,” was all he said, and then he jumped off his stool and headed back to the living room. “Call me when dinner’s served,” he said and I just stared at his retreating form. Beside me, L was shaking his head, the question obviously got him shaken. He grabbed a paper towel from the dispenser and cleaned his hands.
“I think I should go.”
“No, you shouldn’t. It’ll just make things awkward for you and H when you see each other again. So can we just get over the awkward phase right here?”
It was L’s turn to sigh, and his sigh was heavier than the one that H had let out. “I don’t want to come in between you two.”
“You’re not,” I said calmly. “And I don’t want to come in between you two either.” The package that was wrapped around the chicken finally ripped, and I let out a loud “Ha!” I unwrapped the chicken, and then I looked at L, worry still written on his face.
“H will come around,” I told L, but I didn’t know myself if what I was saying was true.