If Only..., page 3
“I’m happy to see you’re not late,” Evie says, banging her gloved hands together.
I smile at her and nod towards her feet. “I’m happy to see you paid attention to my footwear recommendations.”
She giggles. “So, what’s the plan?”
I sigh and decide to go with honesty. “Well, I don’t have any money to take you anywhere because Joan and Simon wouldn’t give me any. We both have ten o’ clock curfews and we’re not old enough to do anything cool anyway. Well, you’re not old enough,” I say.
Her eyes look from side to side as if she’s waiting for the punch line of some daft joke. “O-kay,” she says. “What does that leave us with?”
“I thought we could go hiking.”
“Hiking?” she repeats. “Where?”
I nod up the hill that sits behind us. “Up to the top of Monster.” I pull out a flask of tea and a pack of biscuits from the inside of my coat. “I got us drinks and snacks.”
She looks up at me and smiles as if I’ve just told her I bought plane tickets to New York. “That sounds perfect.”
“When your friends ask, just tell them that I took you bowling and paid for your burger or something.”
She laughs and nudges me playfully with her shoulder. “Okay. Wouldn’t want anything to ruin your street cred, would we?”
“Definitely not,” I reply, grinning at her.
I keep sneaking peeks at her as we walk up and along the rugged path that snakes around the side of the hill. She’s chattering about how much revising she’s been doing for our GCSEs, but I’m not really listening. I’m watching the way her lips curve when she smiles at something I’ve said. I’m watching the way her pupils widen just that little bit when she really looks at me. I stare at her skin that looks permanently tanned, even in winter, and the thin lashing of mascara that coats her already black lashes. She hasn’t worn any other makeup than that and I’m glad. She’s only fifteen, but Evie Romano has a confidence about her that really makes me wish she was already sixteen.
“How did your mum and dad meet?” I ask when she starts talking about her family.
“Mum was an air stewardess and my dad lived in Italy. Her flight stopped over for one night and when she went partying with her colleagues, that’s how they met.”
“So your dad’s Italian?”
She nods. “Yes, why?”
I laugh and shrug. “I just always thought it was your mum.”
“Yeah, she’s tanned like you and she has black hair too.”
She starts to giggle, then trips, and I watch her foot get caught up in a huge branch of a tree that’s fallen onto the path. My hand shoots out to try and stop her from falling but she’s already half-tumbled over.
“Shit!” I hiss as she tugs on my arm and pulls me over the side of the path with her. We tumble down the dusty hill through the ferns until I hit a tree, which breaks my fall. Evie continues to tumble and roll some more until she lands with a huff on the path that snaked below us. I jump to my feet and half run, half fall down the hill.
“Shit, Evie,” I breathe as I flop down beside her. “Are you alright?”
She winces and clings to her ankle, but at least she’s sitting up. “I think I broke my foot or something,” she whimpers. I can tell she wants to cry but she doesn’t. Instead, she laughs, but it’s a laugh laced with pain and embarrassment. “I think that’s the funniest thing that ever happened to me.”
“It wasn’t really that funny,” I tell her.
“If we were watching two other people, we’d have been laughing our heads off.”
She has a point. Before she can protest, I hook my hands behind her knees and throw her over my shoulder. “This wasn’t the plan,” I say grumpily.
“I could have hopped.”
“At least you only have to carry me a little way,” she says. “Better than if we’d gotten all the way to the top.”
“This wasn’t the plan,” I say again. I’m annoyed that it’s gone so wrong. I wanted it to be special . . . memorable even. I didn’t want it to end like this, with her parents probably blaming me somehow.
Five minutes later, I gently place her down on the grass under the shelter of the oak tree. My shoulders are aching, my back feels like its split into two, and I’ve got a horrible headache that’s just starting to pound at my temples. “Shall I call your dad?”
“Not yet,” she tells me, shuffling into a comfier position. “I’m only going to spend the next few hours in A&E, so I may as well sit here and at least finish our date.”
I slump down next to her, feeling miserable.
“Why are you so grumpy?” she asks. “I’m the one with the broken foot.”
“I know,” I say. “Sorry.”
“Tell me what your plan was,” she asks, smiling playfully at me.
“We were going to walk to the top,” I tell her, nodding towards Monster, “and we were going to sit on my favourite bench and look out over the snow-covered woods while we drank our hot tea and ate our biscuits. Then we were going to walk back down, probably hand in hand, and you were going to laugh at my stupid jokes, thinking I was the funniest guy ever. And when we got back to this tree, I was going to kiss you and it was going to be the best kiss you’d ever had. I’d walk you home and you’d be smiling, thinking that you’d never be kissed like that again for the rest of your life.”
I stop when I realise I’ve said too much. I look at her face, which is now serious and not playful at all, and feel like a twat. An embarrassed twat.
She clears her throat. “What’s with the tree?”
The tree? I feel myself frowning at her. “What do you mean?”
“Meet me at the oak tree,” she mocks in a pretend deep voice. “I was going to kiss you under the tree.”
I nod towards my house and my bedroom at the back that overlooks us. “I’ve seen this tree every single day since I moved here. In fact, it’s one of the first things I saw. It’s been the biggest constant in my life, which sounds pathetic when I say it out loud. But it’s also the place where I saw you for the very first time.”
She gasps and covers her mouth with her hand. “Cole, I—”
“It doesn’t matter,” I interrupt. “I shouldn’t have said anything anyway.”
She doesn’t speak, but I suddenly feel her hand creeping up the nape of my neck. She pushes her fingers into my hair and pulls at me until we’re face to face. Her big green eyes twinkle as she smiles up at me. “Just shut up and kiss me,” she tells me.
And I do. I push my hand up to the soft curve of her cheek and rub my thumb across it. She feels as amazing as I’ve imagined. I lean in, and just as she closes her eyes, I softly press my lips to hers.
She sighs and opens her mouth just a fraction as we move together, and I slide my tongue across her bottom lip and then into her mouth. She kisses me back, just as eager, until our breaths, lips, and tongues become a perfect mixture of Evie and Cole. Cole and Evie.
I suck at her bottom lip for the quickest of seconds as I pull away.
“That was the best first kiss I’ve ever had,” she whispers.
I hope that’ll be the last first kiss you ever have.
I shut off the shower and step out, feeling the familiar and satisfying ache deep in the muscles all over my body. I look at myself in the mirror and notice tinges of red on my arms and across the bridge of my nose.
After my run with Aiden yesterday, I showered, had breakfast and then sat in the courtyard reading my Kindle all afternoon. It was one of those gloriously rare English summer days where there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and the temperatures were the same as the Med.
I rub some moisturiser all over my skin, walk back into my bedroom and pull on my navy knickers that have tiny white bows at the sides and the matching lace bra.
My boss, Gerard, rang me late last night to tell me he’d put an early meeting in and it was imp
I pull on my navy sleeveless shift dress and high, tan-coloured wedges and then squirt myself with perfume. I slip my diamond studs into my ears and fasten my simple diamond necklace around my neck. I curl my thick, dark-brown hair and then arrange it high up on my head, securing it with pins so it falls in bouncing curls all around my face and down my neck.
I hear a knock on the door and grab my deodorant from off the bathroom counter. “Here,” I say to Steph as I shove the can into her hand. “You really need to buy your own because I’ll be running out soon.”
Steph is only staying with me for a few weeks until she can move into her new place. She gave notice on her flat before she actually found somewhere else to live, so she’s technically been homeless for the last two weeks.
“Thanks,” she says, spraying herself under her armpits. “I’ll grab some from Boots today.”
I nod and take it back from her. “Is Georgia coming tonight to do my hair or is it tomorrow?”
Georgia is Steph’s girlfriend, and she’s also the best hairdresser in the whole of London. She’s even won awards and gets to go to all the shows to do celebrities’ hair. As a thank-you for letting Steph stay with me, Georgia has offered to do my hair. For free.
“Tonight,” Steph says, flicking her bright purple hair from off her face. “Do you mind if she stays over? We can get Chinese food for tea.”
“Sure,” I say. “Just don’t have wild, noisy lesbian sex all night long.”
She laughs and says, “Okay, we’ll just have wild, quiet lesbian sex all night long.”
I roll my eyes at her, but she knows I’m only joking. “I should get back about six tonight.”
“That’s cool.” She nods, looking me up and down. “You look hot today, by the way.”
I glance down at my dress and smooth it over my thighs with my hand. “Thank you.”
“You’re most welcome. I’ve gotta go. Catch you later, roomie.”
I lean toward the mirror and put on a thin layer of foundation, then quickly lash the mascara wand over my eyelashes and apply a thin line of eyeliner. When I’m done, I grab my brown leather handbag and head out into another warm morning.
I turn around as I enter the reception area of my work to see Gerard waddling towards me. He’s wearing a red helmet, a bright yellow coat and he’s carrying a fold-up bicycle. His sandy-coloured hair is poking out through the gaps in his helmet and his face is beetroot.
Gerard is possibly the best boss in the world. He’s strict but fair, and he feels like an uncle instead of a boss. He’s always been kind to me and it’s thanks to him that I got my job here in the first place.
“Morning,” I say.
“Listen,” he huffs, “would you be a doll and get me a coffee once you get yourself settled at your desk, please?”
I step into the lift and hold the doors open for him. “Sure.”
“I want to make sure I’m fully awake before this meeting,” he tells me, “so get it with an extra shot.”
We wait while the lift fills up and then squeeze ourselves into the corner. “Did you have a nice weekend?” he asks.
“Yes, thank you. I went out to that Indian place in Spitalfields with a few friends on Saturday.”
“Oh, of course,” he splutters. “It was your birthday.”
“Did you get wrecked?”
I smile at Gerard’s attempt to show me he’s still down with the kids. “Yeah,” I say, “and I don’t know how I did it, but I still managed to go for a run on Sunday morning too.”
“Good for you,” he says. “I tried to go out, but my back was playing up.” He presses one of his against the bottom his lower back and sticks his big tummy out. “I should probably get it looked at. Actually, would you mind sorting that out for me? Just do it through the company’s health thingy-m-bob.”
“Sure, no problem.” I want to ask him what this big meeting is about, but he’s not volunteered the information yet and I don’t want to put him in an awkward position by asking him in a lift full of people.
“Oh, by the way,” he starts, “I managed to get you a couple of hours mentoring each day with one of the guys on the floor. If you can squeeze it into your day so you can do your normal work, then you’re free to sit with him for the next six weeks.”
“Really?” I half-squeal. Some of the people at the front of the lift turn around to stare at me. I shrink back and notice Gerard grinning at me. “Thank you,” I say, “I’ll make sure I fit it all in.” I’ve been dying to get a bit of training on the trading floor but never thought it would actually happen.
“Good,” he says. “It’s the young lad on the platforms side. I think his name is Thomas.”
The lift pings when it reaches our floor. We’re the only ones that need it so we have to shuffle our way through the crowd.
“I don’t know why they don’t just fucking get out to let us out and then get back in again,” growls Gerard.
I grin as we walk down the carpeted, glass-windowed corridor. When I look out, I can see Canary Wharf and the Gherkin building that Aiden still insists on calling ‘the giant dildo,’ even after all this time. We round the corner, push open the doors to the noisy trading floor, and weave through the numerous screens until we get to our quiet corner. We both stop when we get to my desk. There’s a huge bunch of white lilies by my computer screen and a massive balloon that’s been tied to my chair with the words ‘have a great day at work’ on it.
“Please tell me you got me that,” I whisper.
Gerard shakes his head at the same time that some of the men seated nearby start jeering at me.
“Oh, God,” I groan, dropping my bag onto my desk. Why the fudge has Clive sent me a balloon?
Gerard strides forward and snatches the card from the flowers before I have a chance. I click my tongue and then huff at him.
“To Evie,” he begins, “hoping you have a great day at work. Love from Clive.” He blinks up at me. “Who the bloody hell is Clive? Is he new?”
“No one,” I say quickly, taking the card back out of his hand. “I’ll get rid of it and then I’ll get your coffee.”
My reminder that he needs coffee seems to perk him up. “Yes, thank you.”
He walks into his office and I watch him sit down, wondering why they surround offices with glass. I would feel like a goldfish in there.
“Don’t forget my extra shot!” he yells.
I give him a thumbs-up and grab my purse. Then I snatch a pin from out of my hair and pop the ridiculous balloon.
I stand and watch the maypole dancers with Evie tucked firmly into my side. It’s Mayday, and the parade and fair are on the fields behind my house. The brightly coloured banners twirl in the cool breeze, and ribbons of fabric seem to be dancing in the air all around me.
“I like the Mayday parade,” announces Evie.
I smile. Evie and I have been dating for three months now, and although I’ve known her for five years, I still learn something new each time I see her. “Why do you?”
“I like the colours,” she tells me, “and the promise of summer that they bring with them.”
I can see her point about the last bit. “I’m not so keen on the men that are dancing with bells around their feet though,” I say, nodding towards them. “Seems a bit camp to me.”
She giggles, and it’s a noise I’ve heard so much recently that I think I could be blind and still pick her out of a r
“I know,” I say, grinning.
“Are you going to buy me a hot dog or not?”
Boy, can this girl eat. She’s already had a huge lollipop, some candyfloss, a burger and a cone of chips. “You’re going to be the size of a house,” I joke. “I’m not sure I’ll fancy you if you’re fat.”
She punches me in my ribs.
“Ouch, that was hard for a girl.”
“You should know,” she says, unlinking her arm from mine. She turns around and skips backwards as I walk towards her. The breeze picks up some of her hair and blows it around her face. The sun beats down on her, making her skin look like it’s gleaming at me. I wish I had a camera with me so I could take a picture of her. Right here, in this moment, she’s undoubtedly the most beautiful girl in the world.
“I should know what?” I ask, clearing my throat.
She smiles and says, “That I’m not like normal girls.”
I grab her hands, yanking her towards me. She falls against my chest, looks up at me and then closes her eyes. “Oh, I already know that,” I whisper.
And then I kiss her. I stop right in the middle of the fair and kiss the life out of Evie Romano . . . because I can. Because there’s nothing else in the world I’d rather be doing. Because she’s let me in, and I’ve fallen so hard that I can’t remember how it feels to not feel like this.
“Miss Romano,” someone says by my ear. I look up just in time to see a huge black camera being pointed at her. Well, he can just fuck right off. If anyone is taking a picture of her today, it’s me.
“Hey!” I say, shielding Evie with my body. “Bugger off,” I tell him. “She’s only fifteen and this is harassment.”