“I love birthdays. It’s the only time I let myself eat cake,” K.C. mumbled through a mouthful of the Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream cake she’d bought me.
“I can’t live like that.” My fork dug into the icy sweetness. “I’d go nuts counting calories.”
“You don’t have to count calories, Tate. Maybe if I started running…” she drifted off as if she couldn’t finish the thought. K.C. enjoyed exercise classes but hated the idea of motivating herself in her own time.
She’d taken me to Mario’s for my birthday dinner and just had the server bring out the surprise cake. The distant sound of Rosemary Clooney’s Mambo Italiano played from the speakers, and my nerves finally relaxed.
I’d been on edge all day from the fight with Jared last night. He’d peeled out of his driveway after I’d run into my house and, as far as I knew, hadn’t been home all day. It was the weekend. I guess he was off doing whatever it was that he did.
Ideas had been popping in my head all day. Maybe he sold drugs in Chicago? Worked for a crime family? Or maybe he volunteered at an elderly home? But every stupid thought drove me crazier than the last.
“Tate?” K.C. stopped chewing and looked at me. “Are you going to tell me about last night?”
I felt like the thumping in my chest shifted my body. Was she talking about me breaking into his room? The near-sex? But how would she know any of that?
“The race. I heard you showed up with Jared and …staked your claim, so to speak.” Her grin made me smile.
“Oh, yeah,” I answered hesitantly. After the fight with Jared, I was more confused than ever about where we stood. I couldn’t explain it to her if I didn’t understand it myself.
“Well?” She moved her finger in a circle to keep me going.
“Not much to tell, K.C. Jared and I have called a truce, I guess. Other than that, I’m not sure what’s going on.” I stuffed more cake into my mouth.
“Do you care about him? More than a friend?” Her fork was paused in midair, and she stared at me expectantly.
I cared about Jared. A lot. But what good did it do me?
“Yes,” I sighed. “But he doesn’t care about me, K.C. Just leave it alone.”
She gave me a sad smile and did what good friends do—gave me a second slice of cake.
After Mario’s, she drove me home instead of going to the movies like we planned. I was more interested in catching up on missed episodes of Sons of Anarchy than seeing the romantic comedy she wanted.
“What is that?!” she exclaimed, looking at something out the front windshield.
I followed her gaze and sucked in a breath at the sight of my yard, full of neighbors. They were eyeing a hugely bright spectacle by my house.
My pulse started to race. Was my house on fire?
I quickly shot out of the car and raced up my front yard. I gasped at what I saw.
The tree between Jared’s and my houses was lit up with lights. Hundreds. Of. Lights.
Oh, my God. Who did this?!
I couldn’t control the smile that spread across my face. The tree was decorated with an assortment of radiant lighting. White lights, small and big bulbs, as well as lanterns of different styles and sizes adorned the tree. The awe-inspiring magical quality of the world within the branches was too intense for words. I was sure I would never enjoy looking at this tree without lights again.
My lips began to quiver. As I walked closer to the tree, I understood why so many people were hanging around outside now. The sight was beautiful.
I’d spent a lot of time climbing this tree, reading in it, and talking with Jared in it until the stars faded with morning’s light.
He’d done this for me. I didn’t know who else it could’ve been. This was our special place—one of many—and he’d lit it up with magic and wonder.
The quake in my chest grew stronger, and a few tears cascaded down my cheeks as I silently took in the spectacle.
“Do you know what this is about?” K.C. asked beside me.
“I have an idea.” My voice was hoarse from the lump in my throat.
Noticing something stuck to the tree trunk, I walked away from my dispersing neighbors and ripped the sheet of paper from its staple.
Yesterday lasts forever.
Tomorrow comes never.
Breathless, I looked over to Jared’s house, but it was pitch black. Where was he?
“Why’s your bedroom light on?” K.C. piped up, and my eyes shot to the second floor of my house where, indeed, my light was shining. I never kept any lights on when I left the house, except for the one on the porch.
“I must’ve forgotten to turn it off,” I muttered distractedly as I hurried to the house. “I’ll see you later. Thanks for dinner,” I called out behind me, racing up the stairs.
“Uh…okay. Happy Birthday!” K.C. stuttered before I slammed the door. I was being most definitely rude, but my head was elsewhere now.
I dropped my jacket and purse on the floor. I could see my bedroom light shining from my open doorway, and I slowly climbed the stairs. I wasn’t scared, but my heart pounded, and my hands shook.
As I walked into the room, Jared sat on the rail outside my French doors. He looked beautifully disheveled, jeans hanging from his narrow h*ps and sexy-messy hair. My arms ached to hold him.
I wanted to forgive him and forget about everything right now, but my pride held me back.