Seven Years Ago
“Dude, that was weird.”
Taylor Sunshine and Pierce Powers were lying in the twin bed in Taylor’s dorm room. The party had been the usual—loud jocks, giggly girls, and too much alcohol. Taylor had lost at beer pong—God, that game sucked—and had been pretty tipsy when she’d left. Of course, Pierce had spotted her and insisted on walking her back. He’d gotten her to the bed and then turned to leave, and her hug/lunge ended up bringing him down on the mattress next to her. After a good laugh, she’d looped her arms around his neck to pull herself up, he’d leaned closer, and they’d . . .
She’d waited for fireworks and the shattering knowledge that he was the one. Her sister Bella had met the love of her life in junior high school and said she’d always known they’d get married. But other than the softness of Pierce’s lips and his familiar scent that always comforted rather than aroused, Taylor felt a pleasant hum and then . . . nothing.
He groaned into the red plaid pillow. “This isn’t happening. You are not telling me my kissing was weird.”
“That’s not what I was saying! I said the kiss was weird, not your specific kissing style. Did it feel a bit like incest to you, too?”
He let out a noise into the pillowcase and climbed off the bed. “I’m outta here.”
“No, I’m sorry.” She caught his hand and pulled gently back. “Stay. The room’s still spinny, and I’m afraid I’ll get sick.”
She refused to feel guilt at his concerned expression. She needed to have him close tonight: the boy she’d grown up with and the man who knew her best.
He sat back down with a frown. “Do you need water?”
“You need to breathe slow and focus. Want me to put on the TV?”
“In a minute. Look, I’m really sorry. We swore we wouldn’t do that again.”
His face tightened with irritation. “We were fifteen, Taylz. It was a miracle we didn’t end up playing doctor earlier.”
Her nickname softened the rough edges of his statement. “That’s my point. We both felt nothing and promised we wouldn’t muck up our relationship with crap like feelings and sex, and here I went and attacked you. It wasn’t fair.”
He laughed and she relaxed. Thank God she hadn’t hurt him. They’d met freshman year in high school, when they’d been assigned as lab partners. He was an A student; she was a C. He’d ended up tutoring her all semester, scared shitless she’d tank his grade, and a friendship had immediately bloomed. Other than that one experimental kiss, they’d been best friends who’d had each other’s backs, all the way past graduation. She got accepted into Monmouth, and he attended Montclair a short distance away. They’d been able to hang out on a regular basis and keep the same closeness from high school.
“You should be studying poetry, not performance art,” he said with a roll of his pale-green eyes. “I swear, you’re nothing like the other girls I know. And I’m not sure that’s a compliment.”
She fluffed up the pillows, leaned back, and motioned him closer. “Come sit next to me, and you can insult me all you want. I deserve it for sticking my tongue in your mouth.”
“We didn’t get that far,” he muttered, still obviously annoyed by the whole scene. But he took his place next to her, his arms crossed in front of his chest.
A relieved sigh ballooned into her lungs and then softly out. Warmth flowed in her veins from the alcohol, and the darkness masked the shabbiness of her tiny, cluttered room. She leaned her head against his broad shoulder—beefed up from lifting weights and boxing—and breathed in the scent of cotton, soap, and tequila. His jean-clad legs were crossed at the ankles. She’d seen a ton of girls checking him out at the party and knew he never lacked for a date or anything else he wanted. Pierce was a good-looking guy. Unfortunately, many of his partners talked, and talked loudly, confiding all the yummy details she didn’t want to hear, so she also knew he was good in bed.
Still, she knew she got the very best of Pierce Powers, the part that no one else could ever claim.
Loyalty. Friendship. Trust.
“You forgive me?” she asked softly, nudging his shoulder. “I’m a bit drunk, and Will just broke up with me. I think I was feeling sad and kissed you on impulse.”
He snorted. “You broke up with Will, and we went out specifically to celebrate your freedom, remember?”
She scrunched up her nose. “Oh yeah.”
“You’re hopeless.” But his words were softened with humor again, and she knew she was in the clear. “But I forgive you. Unless you think we should try once more in a few years? Maybe third time’s the charm.”
“Doubt it. Besides, it would be awful if we ever hooked up. If we had a fight, who would I call? It couldn’t be you.”
“Ugh, I never tell them anything. I love them, but they chose lifestyles I despise. Bella’s having a baby, and she’s so young! And Avery is going for her PhD, which is boring as hell. No, thanks.”
“Okay, how about we make one of those marriage pacts? If we turn thirty and we still haven’t married, we marry each other.”
“I’m not getting married at thirty! Maybe thirty-five.”
“So we’ll make it thirty-five.”
She pulled lightly at the crisp hairs on his arm. “Nah, that’s so tropey, like that movie My Best Friend’s Wedding. Best friends always vow to marry when they get super old. We should do the opposite.”
“What do you mean?”
The idea hit her, and she nodded with satisfaction. “We vow to each other that no matter how old we are, or how tempting it is to have sex, we never hook up. We swear friends till the end—nothing more, nothing less.”
Pierce shifted his weight and shot her a funny look. “What if we change our minds? Hell, what if we want to have sex one day? Or decide to become fuck buddies?”
She glared. “We won’t—we’re better than that crap! We tested it twice already and know we’re safe from the spark thing. It will be a way to protect our relationship forever. What do you think?”
He cocked his head. His long dark hair had escaped from its tie and now fell loose against his cheeks. “Never thought about it like that.”