Release Date: Feb 20th
“Deep breath, and exhale as you transition into cat-cow.” The yoga teacher’s smooth voice wafted across the room, and I closed my eyes, losing myself in the gentle piano music. Everything was good and right. Smooth. Easy.
Until a short giggle interrupted my flow.
I cracked an eye, taking in Erica, who stretched on the mat next to me. She had her ass pressed as far back as it would go and was wiggling it slightly under the facade of stretching.
There goes my inner peace.
Following Erica’s eyes, I clocked Dirty Pirate Guy watching from across the room. His mouth hung open as he stared at Erica, and I swear a bit of drool dripped onto his mat.
“This is yoga,” I hissed at my best friend. “Not Tantric Sex 101.”
Erica bit back a giggle and went into downward dog. I followed suit, allowing my head to collapse forward. Some days, there was just no trying with Erica. The girl lived to get a rise out of people. As annoying as that sometimes could be, it was also the reason I loved her.
“Namaste,” the teacher said, and everyone echoed the word that meant class was over.
Everyone except for Erica, of course.
“Nay, I’ma stay right here,” she whispered, bumping me with her elbow.
I rolled my eyes as Dirty Pirate Guy, wearing a grin, walked toward us. As his gaze fell lower, though, it hit Erica’s hand—and the Claddagh ring showing she was taken.
Just like that, his trajectory switched, and he veered toward the exit.
“You must get off teasing men like that.” I rolled my pink yoga mat up and stuck it in the waiting tote bag.
“Yeah, actually, I do.”
“Oh my god. Don’t tell me you’re actually attracted to Dirty Pirate Guy.” With most of the class already departed, I headed for the door.
Piling her long, blond hair into a messy top-bun, Erica fell into step next to me. “Don’t call him that. It’s mean.”
“He’s the poor man’s Jack Sparrow, Erica. Did you not see the earring and the dreads? And ‘mean’ is you flirting with dudes when you have a perfectly amazing guy at home. What would Matt say if he saw you doing that?”
“He loves it.” Lies. She really never flirted with anyone. Matt was too much for her as it were.
Erica pushed the yoga studio’s front door open, and we emerged onto the street. The chilly Seattle air struck my sweat-slicked skin, cooling me down immensely. Though the pedestrians darting to and fro all wore sweaters or jackets, I was entirely comfortable in only a tank top and windbreaker. It had been a cold September, just the kind I loved.
“You remember when Matt came to this class with us and the instructor totally made him do all that crazy crap for talking?”
Erica snorted and laughed. “He still talks about it.”
“You think he’ll ever come back?” I couldn’t help but chuckle at the memory. The guy was a total goof, and yet, he complimented Erica in a way her ex, Tanner, never could have.
“No.” She laughed. “He’s meeting us next week after we’re all done, but there was no getting him to come inside. I think he still has nightmares about it.” Erica winked.
“You’re crazy.” I laughed again. “Or maybe he is.”
“We both are?” she offered.
With a shrug, she looped her arm around mine, and we crossed the busy intersection, making a beeline for the tapas bar on the corner. It went without saying that we were headed there. Like yoga, cocktails were a Sunday-evening staple.
“I hope I’m crazy with someone eventually. Now I just need to get a man that meets some of my standards and doesn’t look like a teenager, a homeless person or a girl.”
“Not going there.” Erica smirked and bypassed the boyfriend conversation all together as we plopped into seats at the end of the bar. “The usual?”
Shauna, the Sunday bartender, must have seen us coming from across the street because two glasses of red were on the bar in no time at all. I slowly took the first sip, relishing the relaxing effects of the alcohol mixing with the relaxing effects of the yoga.
Yep, Sunday rocked.
“So. Are you excited?” Every one of Erica’s teeth showed in a giant smile.
There was no need for a segue. Tomorrow’s big event had been on my mind all day long. At this point, it was like there was a giant ticking clock over my head, counting down the seconds till my new job began.
“Yeah.” I took in a long breath. Oxygen didn’t help. Nope. I needed another sip of wine.
“Don’t worry. You’ll do a great job.”
I looked at her over the rim of my wine glass, not quite sure what to say to that. How could she know whether I would perform well or not? This would be my first job as a counselor. I’d done all right in grad school, yeah, but this was the real world.
“It’s not kindergarten.”
“No,” Erica agreed. “It’s not kindergarten. And your point is?”
“My point is this.” I went to twist some hair around my finger, something I did when nervous, and then remembered I’d chopped my locks off weeks ago. The wispy pixie cut, though everyone said it looked great, was still taking some getting used to.
“I’m just worried.” My shoulders slumped, and I curled my fingers tight around the glass stem. For a brief moment, I missed kindergarten. The six years teaching it had been a whirlwind. While that kind of environment was probably too chaotic for some people, it was comforting for me. It was what I knew.
And what was headed my way the next day? Something I wasn’t familiar with. Not at all.
“It’s high school,” I pointed out.
“It’s what you wanted,” she said, nearly cutting me off.
I pursed my lips, and Erica followed suit, mocking me. She’d known what I was going to say before I even opened my mouth. That was both a perk and a downside of having the same best friend since first grade.
Erica unzipped her sweatshirt and flapped it around, getting some air on her sweaty skin. Though it was September outside, the tapas bar was incredibly warm. “You always wanted to get into counseling. Kindergarten was never part of the long-term plan.”
She was right, and another thing was true as well. I would have never taken the steps to become a school counselor if Erica hadn’t encouraged me. Change wasn’t in my nature. Maybe it had something to do with my standard, happy upbringing, where the greatest mix-up in routine involved taking the family camping trip in June one year instead of July. Or maybe staying stagnant was just inherent for me. Either way, shaking things up could be terrifying.
Which is probably why I had a best friend who thrived on the new and exciting.
“It’s high school, though,” I said again. “I didn’t think I would be a counselor at a high school. Elementary school, yeah. Maybe junior high. These kids are going to be, like, almost my age.”
“Mmm. You’re twenty-eight.”
“Yeah, well, I still feel like I’m twenty. Like I don’t know jack shit.”
“I think everyone feels that way.”
“Are they even going to take me seriously?”
Erica inhaled for a long time before blowing out a breath that fluffed her bangs. “Assert yourself, and they will. To high-schoolers, ten years is a big difference.”
I remembered all the teachers from when Erica and I were in school. Half of them weren’t any older than I currently was, but they’d seemed so advanced. Back then, I figured they were all married, with kids and mortgages—three things I now still didn’t have.
Though looking for counseling jobs once I received my master’s degree after years of night classes was the obvious thing to do, getting a job offer after my first application had taken me by surprise. The interview for the position at South Seattle High School was supposed to be a warm-up, a chance to break myself into looking for a position. I hadn’t actually prepared myself for getting the job.
But now here I was, hours away from beginning the next stage of my life.
I would have never gotten there if it wasn’t for Erica. We’d met on the playground while I dawdled at the top of the slide, afraid to go down. She’d come up behind me and pushed my butt right down, and the girl had been pushing me ever since.
I would be nowhere without her.
“This is to you.” I raised my wine glass in cheers. “The best friend I’ve ever had.”
With a laugh, we clinked glasses just as her phone beeped.
“Matt?” I questioned.
“Mm-hmm,” she murmured, busy typing away on the screen. A smile tugged at her lips. She was probably telling Matt that Dirty Pirate Guy had hit on her at yoga, and did he want to meet up and have careless, public sex in order to stake his claim?
It wouldn’t have been surprising. They’d once gone to a BDSM club together—not to do anything but to watch. Still, the very thought freaked me out. Matt and Erica were spirited and adventurous, a true couple to be jealous of.
I might not have wanted to check out a sex club, but I did want what they had, a relationship full of passion, thrills, and love.
But that hadn’t happened since—wait, hold on.
Suppressing a sigh, I picked up the menu and perused the apps. I’d already tried them all, but maybe there was something new there.
“Okay. Sorry. I’m done.” Erica put the phone in her bag, but she couldn’t stop the flushed face and big smile.
“Let me guess. He’s getting the whips ready.”
“Oh, stop. You know we don’t do that.”
I set the menu down. “You’re really lucky.”
“I know.” Her smile turned into a frown. “Don’t make that face. You’ll find someone.”
Erica rubbed my arm, making me feel like a little kid who hadn’t gotten her way. I didn’t mean to pout, but it had been a long, long time since I’d had a boyfriend. A couple of years. And I’d dated a bit during that time, but school and work took up nearly all my energy. Add that to the fact that I never really clicked with anyone, and the culmination of my decade of dating ended with me sitting in a bar wondering whether I should get the artichoke dip or bruschetta while my best friend made plans to make love to her hot, billionaire-heir sex machine.
The juxtaposition was painful.
“This is a new beginning,” Erica pointed out. “A new job means a new stage of your life. Things always change all at once. That’s just the way life is. You’re all stagnant and stuck and then, bam, the world turns upside down.”
It sounded like a bunch of mumbo-jumbo, but the look on Erica’s face said she sincerely believed herself.
“All right.” I nodded, raising my glass a second time. “Here’s to a leap of faith.”
“And to you finally getting some action.”
“Erica,” I muttered, burying my face in the glass and sucking down some wine. Secretly, though, I couldn’t agree with her more.
A fulfilling job. A great boyfriend. Some hot sex. It was the holy trifecta, the triangle that would make my life complete.
But I wasn’t about to hold my breath waiting.