Only Ever You is about a girl who planned for everything but never got what she hoped for, and a dweeb who hoped he’d to marry the girl, but never planned for it.
They’re really strangers when they reunite at 30, but they’re burdened by what they think they know about each other. Sebastian was supposed to be an artist and Rachel was supposed to be a screenwriter. They have to shake all that stuff loose before they can see each other. When they do, they’re strangers.
I think attraction between strangers is real. Sexual heat is real. But “hearts and flowers” are earned. (I know that sounds like I’m your dad telling you to mow lawns, but that’s where the magic is. Not the lawns.) In the time just before you’re struck by lightning there’s a real electricity. It’s pure potential and anything can go wrong. It’s the best thing ever.
Sebastian is thinking “now or never” because he thinks Rachel’s never going to think he’s any cooler than when she sees him in the office of his own company. And she isn’t ready because her whole idea of herself is tied up in what a failure she is. Neither one of them is feeling good enough about themselves to have a really hot first kiss, which is the same reason they’re not ready to get married.
After I left her and CJ with Lucinda, I spent the weekly staff meeting wondering if Rachel was the same warrior I’d loved or if she was more the woman who’d held her laptop to her chest as if she needed protection.
I was obsessed.
I had to know.
Her text came in as I was leaving the meeting.
I need to check that we’re kidding
Before I could finish typing a response, I caught her coming out of the bathroom with her laptop under her arm.
Alone. Me and her. Nothing between us but the question of who we were and how we fit.
She didn’t have a chance to finish. I crowded her back into the bathroom and locked the door behind us.
“Kidding about what?” I said.
“About getting married.”
“Why would that even be a question?”
“Our parents have been in negotiations about it.”
My mother couldn’t keep herself from talking if she tried, and I was her favorite subject.
“It might be a little soon for marriage, but—”
“Soon? I don’t like you seeing what I do for a living while you’re in a glass-walled office overlooking the ocean. I mean, I’m not marriage material, and the odds are that’s never going to change.”
“I don’t see why a date’s off the table.”
“Do you know what’s going to happen if we date?”
The list of possibilities was as long as my arm. I could have counted them off, from “We decide we hate each other” to “We end up in bed.” But I didn’t, because I was still trying to figure her out.
What did she want to hear?
With her wide eyes and parted lips, what did she want? Did she have a fondest wish where I was concerned? Was she leaning forward? Was her expression soft and yielding?
My mind spent too long deciding what to say, so my body spoke for me.
I kissed her hard and was met with teeth and stiff resistance. It was a kiss I’d wanted since I’d had hairless armpits and a voice somewhere in the low soprano range. I’d dreamed about it. Fantasized about it. Thought about it so hard in the middle of the night I could practically feel it.
But never, ever in my fantasies did she push me away so hard I fell back against a towel dispenser, watching her face twist into surprised rage as the machine spit out a ragged rectangle of brown paper.
“Messed up. I know.”
“Then why? What is wrong with you?”
She was livid, just like she would have been. Just like she should have been.
The tiger within Rachel was in there, and my attempt to tease her out had probably alienated her. She’d be right to never speak to me again.
“I’m sorry,” I said with my hand on the door lock. “I misread you. It won’t happen again.”
I started to open the door, but she held it closed.
“If we date, my mother’s going to get her hopes up that I’m going to settle down. And I’m sorry, Seb, but if we break up while she’s in chemo, it’s going to crush her.”
“You don’t even know if she’s sick again.”
“You’re right.” She pointed a rigid finger at me as if I were her mother. “I’m going to make her tell me.”
“You’re really beautiful when you’re telling it like it is.”
She slid her hand off the door. Having been called out, the warrior was sent into hiding.
No. I wouldn’t accept that. I wouldn’t allow it.
“Let’s just go out and catch up,” I said. “Saturday.”
“Can’t. Saturday’s the soonest I can talk to Mom.”
I unlocked the door. “I’m sorry about . . . the thing.”
“No, wasting paper towels. Of course kissing you.”
“Next time, give a girl a little warning.”
Next time? Her eyes darted to the door. Was she calculating the distance to her getaway? Or making sure it was closed?
“How about now?” I asked.
“Fair warning. Now.”
I stepped a little closer and put my hands on her arms. Not right away. I let them hover an inch away before touching her to give her the chance to move away. A chance I was sure she’d take.
But she didn’t move away.
Not this time. When I laid my hands on her biceps, she leaned in to me just a little. I smelled the floral lotion on her skin and a hint of cool water on her breath.
“Really.” I slid the laptop from her arms and placed it on the counter. “This is your warning.”
You’re doing this. I cannot believe you’re doing this.
“It doesn’t feel like a warning,” she said, and again—I noted—she didn’t move away.
“Flashing red lights.” My lips brushed her cheek, heading for her mouth. She felt better than I ever imagined. “A buzzer, maybe.”
“Just a kiss?” she asked, her lips moving against mine.
Before I could consummate what she was agreeing to, I was smacked by a swinging door.
“Oh!” CJ said. “I’m sorry! I was looking for you.”
Rachel snatched up her laptop and walked out. CJ raised an eyebrow with good reason, since I was in the ladies’ room. I left, and we all gathered in the hall.
“Well,” Rachel said. “Thanks for showing us your tedious financial-sector company.”
“Thank you for coming,” I said and let them walk away. I could have done or said much more, but not without getting her into trouble. She glanced back at me when they turned the corner, as if she wanted to make sure I was still there.