Six weeks away gives a girl plenty of time to think about what she wants. Especially most of that time is spent alone, quarantined to a hotel room. Watching love bloom between other people on television. People you kind of know. On a show you were a part of for a few weeks.
It’s also enough time to overthink about every detail of your life. How your older sister has always made it her mission to dictate what you do, who you date, and how you live. How you were forced to give up the one person you ever loved to save her ass. How you hate the job she chose for you, but you went along with it because it was easier than fighting her on it.
And she’s a fighter. She pushes and pushes until she gets what she wants. Until she breaks you.
Which is how I ended up on Love or Lust to begin with. She not-to-subtly encouraged me to sign up. Then she filled out the forms for me. Mailed them in. Scheduled the in-person interview. Picked out my outfit and drove me there so I was on time.
What she didn’t do was ask if any of that was what I wanted. Probably because she already knew the answer.
I didn’t want to be on television. Wasn’t interested in fake dating people I’ve never met before. Mostly, I had no desire to leave home for six weeks.
Because he was here.
My ex, the love of my life since I was five years old. He lived next door to us growing up. Our parents were best friends. We did everything together. He was my first kiss, and I was his.
But he married my sister.
Because she was pregnant.
Because she declared it was the only way to keep our parents from disowning her. Which has now backfired on her. And him.
The texts messages started coming within an hour of my elimination. I ignored them the first few days, knowing they were probably from Holly. She was more than likely upset I was eliminated when I was thrilled to be away from that place. From some of those people.
When I finally did find the courage to look the next day, what I saw shocked me to my core.
HOLLY: You’ve ruined my life! I can’t believe you told the world everything. Mom and Dad refuse to talk to me. Travis claims he’s filing for divorce. How could you do that to me after all I’ve done for you?
HOLLY: Answer me!
HOLLY: Kyra, I need to know why you would do that. What did I ever to you to make you turn on me? All I’ve ever done was try and help you.
Ha! Holly’s last message made me laugh as I polished off the first tiny bottle from the mini bar. I’m not much of a drinker after three bottles had disappeared in quick succession, I’m not surprised I found the courage to text her back.
ME: What have you ever done to me? Where should I start? Let’s see… you try to run my life. MY LIFE! I’m not allowed to wear what I want, work where I want, date who I want. YOU make those decision for ME. I never asked for your opinion. I never asked for your help. But what hurts the most is that you stole Travis. You knew how I felt about him. You knew we’d just talked about how we felt about each other. We were going to risk our friendship to be together and then you swooped in and took him. Stole him. Because your life has always been more important than mine. But you know what, you two deserve each other. He could have said no. Could have walked away from you but he didn’t. So good luck. I’m not coming home to Denver.
After that, I turned off my phone. The next morning, I dropped it in the toilet and let it hang out for an hour or so before retrieving it. When Claudia stopped by a few days later after being unable to get ahold of me, I told them her was broken. She was nice enough to bring me a new phone with a new number.
My only regret is not waiting to read Holly’s reply. To see if she even tried to defend her actions. Or reading the text messages from Travis that I completely ignored.
All that’s in the past, though. It’s been six months since I’ve spoken to either of them. I made my parents promise not to mention Holly and when they ask where I am, which they do every time we talk, I lie and say I’m somewhere new. As far as they know, I’m traveling the country with the small amount of money I was granted for surviving two weeks. They’re worried about me, I can hear it in their tone, but I can also hear they’re happy for me.
Because I’m finally happy.
When my plane landed back in Denver, I hung out in the terminal for three hours. Holly was my emergency contact, and I was afraid the producers sent her my itinerary. She was the last person I wanted to see so I made sure to wait until I was certain her patience had worn thin and left.
She wasn’t standing in baggage claim when I finally went in search of my luggage. Neither was my ride, unfortunately.
Lissa was my best friend, but she was also a little flighty. I knew better than to be able to rely on her for anything, but I was hoping she’d at least show up that day. To save me.
Which meant I also didn’t have a place to stay if she didn’t answer my phone call.
“Hey girl!” Lissa’s chipper voice rings out.
“Where are you? I thought you were picking me up today.”
“Oh, yeah. About that. I got called in to work-“ which means she picked up a shift because she was low on cash “-so I sent my neighbor. His name is Trey. Tall, shaggy brown hair, nice ass.”
“Seriously? You expect me to pick him out of a crowd based on how nice his ass is?”
I knew living with Lissa was going to be a challenge. Our personalities are complete opposites. Where’s she’s outgoing and a tab bit crazy, I’m shy and reserved. I can only imagine the guy she sent to pick me up is a lot like her. And considering she’s barely given me a description I can work with; I feel it might be a better idea to catch a ride to her place.
Where all my things are waiting for me thanks to Lissa.
“Don’t worry. Trey has a sign with your name on it. Just look for it. I told him you’d be in baggage claim right about now so he should be there any minute.”
Growling into the phone, I thank Lissa through clenched teeth and hang up.
Surrounded by suitcases, I glance around at family and friends waiting on their loved ones. Some have small signs with names on them while others went all out with posterboards, glitter raining down when they shake them over their heads with excitement.
My feet are starting to ache as I turn in a circle one last time and spot a sign with my name on it. Slowly lifting my eyes, I take in the strong hands and lean body attached to the sign. When my eyes finally connect with his, my heart skips a beat.
When he smiles, his perfectly straight, white teeth glimmering in the florescent lighting, my knees threaten to buckle.
Never has the mere presence of a man had such an effect on me. And I spent two weeks with some of the most drop-dead gorgeous men I’ve ever seen. But this guy… he’s different. There’s something about the way he looked at me that made me want to shed all my clothes and jump his bones in the middle of the airport.
Thankfully I’m not that bold.
“You going out again?” Lissa asks as I slip into my Converse.
“It’s just coffee.”
“Y’all have been having coffee a lot lately. Are you sure that’s all you’re doing?” I don’t miss the lift of her brow as she glares at me, probing for answers.
The truth is, we do drink a lot of coffee together but that’s all we do. Nothing physical has happened, not even the slightest brush of hands. We talk, drink coffee, and talk some more. It’s nice. Really nice. I’ve gotten to know a lot about Trey since we met six months ago and the more I know, the more I like him.
Which is becoming a problem since nothing is happening between us.
“Yes, that’s all we’re doing,” I state firmly before adding unfortunately under my breath.
But today that changes. Because as shy as I once was, I’ve figured out who I am and who I want to be these last few months. Through talking with Trey, living with Lissa, and managing the bookstore I work at.
I want to be the girl who takes charge of her life. Who isn’t afraid of feeling, good or bad. Who doesn’t back down from a challenge because I can do anything I set my mind to.
Today is the day I tell Trey how I feel. Which scares the shit out of me.
Last time I had this conversation with someone, Travis, it didn’t end the way I thought it would. We had exactly four hours together, as more than friends, before my sister found a way to ruin it. With her no where in sight, out of my life forever as far as I’m concerned, that shouldn’t be a problem.
Trey’s waiting for me out front by his car. It’s already running, the chill in the air today keeping us from walking the three blocks as we normally would. As soon as we’re situated at what’s come to be known as our table, I push my coffee aside, clasping my hands in front of me.
He notices the change in my demeanor immediately, the crease in his brow one of concern.
“So, the last few months have given me a lot to think about. You’ve helped me figure out who I want to be, what I want from life, and where I see myself headed. I can’t thank you enough for that. I was in a scary place, the unknown, when we first met. I couldn’t see any good but now, that’s all I see.”
Pausing, I give Trey a chance to comment but he doesn’t. Instead, he leans back in his chair, taking a sip of his coffee, but his eyes never leave mine.
“One of those things I see when I think about my future is sharing it with someone and- “
“Who?” he interrupts.
“Who do you see yourself sharing it with.” Placing his coffee back down, he leans forward, elbows on the table, his stare intensifying. “You’re going to have to say it, Kyra.”
Shit. I’m chickening out. All the confidence I felt going into this conversation has vanished.
“If you say Travis, I’m going to have a hard time keeping my cool. He doesn’t deserve you. You’re better than that. You deserve someone who is going to cherish you, take care of you, love you like you are the most precious gift. Because you are. And he knows what a gigantic mistake he made I’m sure. Letting you go, picking your sister.
“Don’t let him back in your life, Kyra. Don’t give him a second chance, I’m begging you. He’s just going to hurt you again. He didn’t care enough about your heart the first time; he’s not going to treat it right this time.”
My jaw is hanging open. I don’t even know how to respond to that. I know I have to, though. I can’t have him thinking this is about Travis when it’s really about us. About him.
Trey reaches across the table and takes my hands in his. Mine look small in comparison to his but they fit perfectly. His touch makes me feel protected, loved.
“Please, Kyra. Tell me you’re not actually considering going back to Travis,” Trey begs.
“No. I was actually talking about you,” I whisper, my eyes never leaving his as I finally find my voice and the courage to say what I came here to say.
“Oh, thank God.” Letting out a long sigh, Trey drops his head to his chin, but I don’t miss the smile that consumes his features. “I thought I was going to have to kill him.”
“Orange is not your color and you’re too pretty to go to prison. They would make you their bitch,” I joke.
Trey chuckles as he pushes his chair back and stands. Pulling me to stand in front of him, I suck in a deep breath and wait for him to say something, anything, that let’s me know we’re on the same page. That he feels the same way I do.
Instead, he lets his actions speak.
His hands release mine. Placing one on each cheek, Trey stares down at me and I can see everything he’s feeling in his gaze. The love and admiration. Most importantly, I can see his resolve and patience breaking.
When his lips capture mine, stealing my breath, I practically melt into him. Wrapping my arms around his neck, I grip the longer hairs that are curling around his nape and allow myself to get lost in his kiss. In the way he makes me feel.
When he finally pulls back, we’re both breathless, gasping for air. I want to pull him back to me, to kiss him again. To never stop. Instead, I focus on calming my racing heart, sucking in deep breaths and letting them out slowly.
“It’s about damn time,” Trey finally says, his words coming out between tiny puffs.
“What do you mean?”
“I’m pretty sure I fell in love with you the moment we met. In the airport. You, looking irritated and exhausted but still the most gorgeous woman I’ve ever seen. I’ve been waiting for you to figure it out, to decide how you felt. For this moment. And I have to admit, it was worth the wait.”
He felt it to. The spark. The instant connection.
At the time, I brushed it off. I was highly emotional and, as he pointed out, irritated and exhausted. Not a great combination. Especially for me.
“I love you, too,” I hear myself confesses.
“Good, because you and I have a lot of catching up to do now that we’ve settled that.”
Coffees long forgotten, Trey takes my hand, pulling me out the door faster. My little legs are taking two steps for every one of his long strides. As soon as we make it to his car, he pushes me up against the passenger door and captures my mouth again.
This time it’s a chaste kiss.
“To tide me over until we get home,” Trey explains as he pulls away, opening the passenger door for me.
“Oh, yeah. You’re coming home with me. There’s so much more I want to tell you and none of it is appropriate to say in public.”
A shive runs up my spine as Trey helps me in the car. This feels like the beginning of something beautiful. Something special.
I’ve waited a long time to share my heart with someone and I’m starting to wonder if there was a bigger reason for that. For the heartbreak in between. For the years I spent pining after Travis, dating guys who I wasn’t interested in.
Was it all to pass the time until I met Trey?
If so, it makes every second worth it. Every single moment was in preparation for this. Of the way I feel. Because now I realize I never really loved Travis, not as more than a friend. I just hadn’t experienced what real love felt like. I had no comparison.
Real love is rare. Unconditional. It makes you feel alive.
Right now, I feel more alive than I have my entire life and I can’t wait to see what the future has in store for me. For us.
I’m so happy for Kyra. When the time was right, true love found her.