Excerpt: Good Together
Tonight was the night. The first time I got to see Gabriel after the way I ended things. Awkward, anyone? I sighed and washed my face in the sink, wishing the water could clean away the blush. But no: it was still there as I looked into the mirror. I was still there, as unremarkable as I’d always been. The dark hair—not black, nor really brown—dirty green eyes I always thought were too light for my complexion and pale skin. I’d stopped going to the beach after breaking up with Gabriel, and it would have been awkward hanging out with his twin brother Michael alone. Besides, I doubt he would have even wanted me around.
I combed my hair, forcing it to lie flat, and I thanked God again that at twenty-eight, zits were a thing of the past. Slacks, shirt, and a jacket were pretty much the whole of my wardrobe. It allowed me to stay forgettable and not stand out in any way. The school days were hard for me to shake off even on my best days, and especially considering I still turned whenever someone called for a Helen. And wasn’t that funny—I was called ugly for a better part of my teens and Helen was considered the most beautiful woman in the world.
I snorted to myself as I heard my cab downstairs and rushed down the steps, cursing as my phone rang.
Mumbling the address to the driver, I answered the phone at the last second. “Yeah?”
“Troy, are you coming?” Michael yelled over the noise.
“I’m in the cab right now.” My heart rushed.
“Good. I have some friends here I want you to meet,” he said.
“Are you sure? I thought it would only be us three.” I was so out of my comfort zone that I was close to hyperventilating.
“I didn’t want to make it awkward for you, so I called a few of our other friends. Maybe you’ll meet someone who’s a better fit.” Michael said it so confidently I almost laughed. He’d just made it three times as awkward. I would never meet a “better fit” because there wasn’t anyone out there for me. Gabriel was good-looking, smart, and as good a person as I’d ever been with. But even he didn’t like me. What chance did I have with someone not nearly as perfect? Besides, I had never liked crowds. They reminded me too much of bully gangs.
“Would you mind if I skipped it?” I tried, really not feeling ready to face the squad of strangers.
“Don’t be ridiculous. I want to see you, and so does Gabriel. It’s been months, and you said you’re over him. If you’re not, I won’t push you, but otherwise I would like to see you. Don’t worry, nothing is gonna happen to you. I’ll keep watch.” I could hear him grinning, and what’s worse, I knew I could trust him. There was no way I could get out of it without hating myself afterward.
“Yeah, all right. I’m on my way.” I sighed, completely unsure if that was the right decision.
“Great! I’ll be up front. See you,” he said and hung up the phone, leaving me alone to calm down my breathing and face the possible consequences of my acquiescence.
I had to remind myself that while Gabriel had been the one who caught my interest, it was Michael who made me feel safe. There was something in his carefree personality that gave the impression there was more beneath it. And boy was there. I was waiting for Gabriel to finish his shift once in the bar when a guy was making trouble. Somehow I found myself right next to Michael as he firmly escorted the guy out. It wasn’t his strength, or even his words so much, but rather the way he looked at the guy, as if he could kill him right where he stood and not feel even an ounce of remorse. He was strong, wasn’t afraid to show it, and still, he was never anything other than polite and inviting toward me. It was a drastic change and if nothing else, I was grateful for my failed relationship with Gabriel, because it had given me a friend, the first person ever who had called me and asked how I was doing and even invited me out, despite my doubts.
There was still that little voice in me whispering how all of it was a prank, how something was bound to go wrong, but for once I dared to end that train of thought and hoped for the best.
“You’re here!” Michael yelled when he saw me and rushed to hug me even before I was all the way out of the car.
“How much have you had to drink already?” I asked, smiling.
“Aww, can’t a guy hug another guy sober?” He moved me away by holding my upper arm and looked at my face.
I blushed scarlet and stumbled over my words, “Sure. He can.”
“I’m just messing with you. I only had a couple of beers, but I would have hugged you even without them. You’re the first guy my brother ever dated who’s a decent human being. You’re worth knowing, Troy.” He threw his arm over my shoulder and pulled me with him into the bar.