Home > Only Him (One and Only #2)(3)

Only Him (One and Only #2)(3)
Author: Melanie Harlow

“That’s a good point,” said Stella. “Can you think of anything in the past you might have unresolved feelings about? Your ballet career maybe?”

I shook my head. “It’s not that.”

“Mom and Dad’s divorce?” Emme suggested.

“No, that never bothered me either. They were obviously unhappy together.”

“A relationship?” asked Stella.

Something twisted in my gut.

“No,” I lied.

I couldn’t go there. I never went there.

Emme went there. “What about Dallas Shepherd?”

My stomach hollowed.

Dallas Shepherd.

My first crush, my first kiss, my first everything.

He’d had the body of an athlete, the hands of an artist, the face of a god, the charm of a fairy tale prince, and the sense of a cinder block.

Not that he wasn’t smart—he was. He used to amaze me with all the things he could memorize. Random things I said offhand he could repeat back to me almost verbatim. And he was so damn talented—he could draw anything. I never understood why his grades were so terrible, or why he made such bad decisions. He was always getting in trouble at school. Fights. Pranks. Smoking in the bathroom. He didn’t even like cigarettes! It drove me crazy, all the dumb stuff he used to do—but he couldn’t stay out of trouble, and I couldn’t stay away from him. It was like trying to fight gravity.

“Come on, that was twelve years ago,” I said, attempting to laugh. I’d been seventeen the last time I saw him, not that I had known it was going to be the last time. He’d made sure of that. “I think I’m over him by now.”

“I don’t know about that,” Emme said. “You haven’t really dated anyone seriously since then, and you were pretty wrecked after he left.”

I shifted in my chair. “No, I wasn’t.”

“Yes, you were. Stella, remember that pillowcase she had with his face on it?”

Stella laughed while I huddled in humiliation, remembering all the tears I’d cried on that pillowcase. “I never saw it, but you told me about it.”

Emme was delighted. “She would put it on every night and take it off every morning to hide it. I only know because I caught her doing it once. She made me swear not to tell Mom.”

“Okay, enough,” I snapped.

“You shouldn’t be embarrassed about your feelings, Maren.” Emme patted my shoulder.

“I don’t have feelings about Dallas anymore,” I insisted.

“You never think about him?” Stella pressed.

I shrugged and took a few swallows of wine. “Not really.” Another lie.

I thought about him every time a man disappointed me in bed and left me wondering if I’d ever feel that thing I’d had with him again—that insatiable desire between us. I can’t get enough, he used to tell me, his ravenous mouth seeking every inch of my skin.

I thought about him every time I drove past the house on the lake where he used to live, or the high school we’d both attended, or the dark church parking lot he’d driven to that final night, where he’d gone down on me in the backseat of his Jeep before pulling me onto his lap and whispering that he loved me, that he wanted me, that he needed me, as he slid inside me, slow and deep. He’d been uncharacteristically broody and intense that night, and I’d been so lost in my own feelings I hadn’t thought to ask him why.

I thought about him every time I saw someone sketching, remembering how he was constantly drawing things—with a pencil on the back of a test he’d failed, with a pen on a paper napkin at a restaurant, with a Sharpie on people’s arms at parties. One time he’d spent all night “tattooing” my left arm in gorgeous, scrolling mandala designs that stretched from my hand almost to my shoulder. My mother had been furious and my ballet teachers appalled, but I’d loved the idea that he’d created something so beautiful on my skin, as if I were his canvas. I’d wished it was a real tattoo, and he’d promised someday it would be. He’d promised a lot of things.

But it turned out he was better at sex than promises, and his sudden vanishing act had left a bruise on my heart that had never completely healed. To make peace with it, I’d simply come to accept that tender spot as part of me, and I avoided pressing on it.

Could the dream be about Dallas? But why now, twelve years later, when I’d already moved on? Sure, it had taken me a long time, but I’d gotten there. I dated occasionally. It wasn’t my fault I’d never fallen head over heels for someone again. It wasn’t like you could choose your soulmate—either you felt that thing or you didn’t. And I’d just never felt it for anyone else. What was I supposed to do, fake it? I’d rather be single.

The three of us were quiet for a moment before Emme spoke again. “Why does it have to mean anything? Maybe it’s just a random bad dream.”

I shook my head. “I don’t believe anything is random. But let’s talk about something else, okay? I’ll figure it out. Deciphering messages from my subconscious is not your problem.”

“Well, what’s your subconscious saying about that dark purple dress?” Emme asked.

I laughed and shook my head. “Nothing yet, but I’ll let you know if I hear something.”

“Good. We’re now thinking October or November up at Abelard, and I’m envisioning kind of a soft autumn color palette—eggplant, heather, thistle, sangria, eucalyptus.” She ticked the colors off on her fingers.

“That’s going to be beautiful, Emme,” I said. Abelard Vineyards was the winery our cousin Mia and her husband Lucas owned up on Old Mission Peninsula. It would be gorgeous that time of year.

“I agree,” said Stella. “But can you really plan a wedding that fast? That’s only a few months away.”

Emme rolled her eyes and sighed dramatically. “I’m a wedding planner, Stella. That’s what I do. We’ll get better prices in the off-season, and besides …” Her cheeks went pink and her shoulders rose. “We don’t want to wait. We want to be married yesterday.”

Now it was Stella who sighed. “Must be nice to be so in love. How’s it going living together?”

“Fantastic. I’ve never had so much sex in my life,” Emme whispered excitedly. “And it’s better every time. Nate is just … so generous. And talented. And well-endowed.” She shivered. “It’s mind-blowing.”

I peered into my empty glass, wondering if a second glass was a horrible idea. I didn’t drink much and had a pretty decent buzz from the first.

Emme looked across me to Stella. “What about you? Things still strictly platonic with Buzz?”

I nudged Emme with my foot. Buzz was our nickname for Stella’s psych professor boyfriend, Walter. We called him that because he was so passionate about his beekeeping. What he wasn’t passionate about was Stella—at least not sexually. Emme and I remained perplexed about their year-long relationship, which seemed more like a friendship than anything else, or maybe like a brother and sister hanging out together. But Stella claimed to be fine with that.

“Yes,” she said. Then she looked around, like she was trying to find something she’d lost. “Is there a menu anywhere? I’m getting kind of hungry.”

“I’m up for some food,” said Emme. “I’ll flag down the bartender.” But beneath the bar, she nudged me back, and I knew she’d noticed, just as I had, the way Stella had avoided any further discussion about her and Buzz.

I understood completely. Who’d want to follow up Emme’s dreamy rhapsodizing about Nate’s sexual prowess and their mad rush to the altar with anecdotes about holding hands at the movies and listening to endless stories about pollination on their Sunday morning jogs? I didn’t want to talk about my sex life either. Two-year dry spell aside, it was pretty depressing that I was twenty-nine and the only guy I’d ever experienced mind-blowing sex with was my high school boyfriend.

Stop thinking about him.

I put him from my mind and did my best to focus on what Emme was saying about centerpieces and seating arrangements.

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