A LIE FOR LOVE
(PRACTICE MAKES ANXIOUS)
“Hi, RJ.” I shake my head at my reflection. “Hey, RJ!”
I blow out a breath.
I’ve been standing in front of my mirror for the past twenty minutes, practicing saying hello. The thing about being really into learning is that I haven’t spent a lot of time figuring out how to interact with people. I’m really good at presenting information and findings, but conversation isn’t my strong suit.
RJ said his cabin is a fifteen-minute trek down the beach. I use the term beach loosely. It’s more like a path cut into the grassy, sometimes rocky terrain with water on one side.
I’ve been here for two days. I have no internet reception. I’ve seen lots of birds and rodents and, in the distance, some whales. My only human interaction has come in the form of cashiers and a waitress at the diner I had lunch at today.
In the short time I’ve been here, I’ve made some interesting discoveries—such as, perpetual daylight sucks. Also, since I’m unable to connect to the internet, I can’t check my email or do any research. I have no satellite, and I’m bad at keeping a fire going.
More than anything else, this cabin sucks. It’s cold, drafty, dusty, musty, and creaky. There are a lot of spiders, and I’m pretty sure I have several rodent roommates, possibly related to the one I buried the day I arrived. Also, the hot-water tank seems to have an issue. So far my showers have been ice cold, which isn’t great, because my fire keeps going out—even though I took outdoor adventuring as a Girl Scout. Although I was never allowed to actually go on the outdoor adventuring trips because, according to my mother, those were too dangerous.
I called the rental office hoping they’d be able to help, or maybe they would have alternative accommodations better suited for human habitation, but they’re away on vacation and won’t be back for another week. So I’m stuck in this dump with only my textbooks and two novels, both of which I’ve already read. I also haven’t slept much, so I’m a little emotional.
This morning when I called my parents, I lied to them, which isn’t something I typically do. But I’m determined to make this work, so it was necessary. I told them I’m having a great time. I had to practice faking enthusiasm for ten minutes before I made the call. I’m also grateful for the terrible cell reception. It means my parents can’t video chat with me and see my puffy eyes or call me out on my lies.
After I got off the phone, I decided the best plan was to go to town and pick up a couple of tote bins to store my clothes and dry goods in. Hopefully it will make the cabin less enticing for rodents.
Two cab rides, three hours, some limited human interaction, one diner meal, and a shopping trip later, I’m back at the cabin. All of my clothes and dry goods are safely packed in totes, and now I have an entire afternoon free. With nothing to do.
So I’ve decided to bring RJ a thank-you gift. Well, it’s also an apology gift. It’s like killing two birds with one stone. Although I’d never kill a bird. But it’s a thank-you for being so kind and understanding on the plane—planes—and an apology for falling into his lap, accidentally kissing him on the cheek, and getting sick on the Cessna. And a thank-you for giving me a lift here from the airport.
I picked him up a six-pack of beer while I was in town, the same kind I saw him buy when we went grocery shopping together. I run my fingers through my hair and adjust my hat. Maybe a little makeup would be advisable.
I put on some lip gloss, but it’s very pink, and I don’t like how much attention it draws to my mouth. The mouth I used to kiss RJ’s cheek. His stubbly cheek that smelled like aftershave. The same mouth I used to toss my cookies. No. I don’t want to draw attention to my mouth.
After another ten minutes of practicing, I decide I’m as ready as I’m going to be. I leave my tiny one-room cabin and walk in the direction of RJ’s place.
The fresh air is nice, but the fifteen-minute walk is actually more along the lines of twenty-five, and I’m sweating under my parka by the time his cabin comes into view. If one could even call it a cabin.
The two-story A-frame has a huge deck and stairs leading all the way up from the water. It makes my place look like a derelict shack, which it kind of is. No wonder he was worried about leaving me there.
I smooth out my hair, which is blowing around my face thanks to the breeze, and take a deep breath. You can do this, Lainey. He’s just a man. I knock before I lose my nerve.
The door swings open, and I’m greeted by a chest. A bare chest. A big, bare chest. Oh my. I allow my gaze to drop a little lower. Sweet heavens, he has an entire six-pack. And that V of muscle at his hips disappears into his jeans, leading my eyes down. I’ve only ever seen that V in magazines, never in real life. I thought maybe it was airbrushed or something, but clearly I was wrong about that. I wonder if the rest of him is just as defined . . . I snap my eyes up to his face. “Hi.”
“Hey. I was just thinking about you.” He rubs his lips, the hint of a smile playing on them.
“You were thinking about me while you’re shirtless?” Oh God. I didn’t just ask that.
He full-on grins. His smile is just so pretty. He has nice teeth. Perfect teeth, actually. “To be fair, I’ve thought about a lot of things while shirtless, but one of those things happened to be you.”
“Right. Of course.” I nod. “I would’ve called, but I didn’t take down your number.”
“I tried to call you earlier today, but you didn’t answer.”
“You called me?”
“I wanted to check in. See how you were getting along.”
“That’s sweet. I’m doing fine. Good, even.” I hold up the beer. “I brought you a gift. Well, it’s a thank-you—and an apology. It’s both.”
He inclines his head. “You wanna come in? We can have one of those.”
“Oh, uh.” I didn’t actually plan beyond bringing the beer over. “I don’t really drink beer.”
“You can still come in, though. I have other liquids you can consume, unless you have somewhere else to be.” A dimple pops in his cheek.
“I don’t have anywhere else to be.”
He steps aside and motions for me to come in. He really is a giant of a man. I’m not tall, but at five foot four I’m around average, and he makes me feel tiny.
He closes the door behind me and runs a hand over his cut abs. “I should put a shirt on.”
“You don’t have to do that.” I gesture to his incredible chest. “I mean, unless it makes you uncomfortable to be shirtless in front of me. Then of course you can put one on, but if you’re comfortable shirtless then you should just stay that way. Whatever makes you the most comfortable.” I should just stop talking. I set the beer on the counter and open a cupboard. I don’t actually know what I’m doing—other than trying not to gawk openly at his awesome chest. Which I sincerely hope he doesn’t cover up with a shirt.
I find a couple of glasses in a cupboard and flip them over. “I can pour you one?” I ask.
He steps up beside me, looking 100 percent perfectly shirtless. “I can handle that.”
“I’ve got it.” I crack the top and pour the contents into the glass, but it foams like crazy, half the glass filling with bubbles instead of beer. “Hmm, is it supposed to be like this?”
“You really aren’t big on the beer, are you?” he asks on a laugh.
“I don’t like the taste. Did I ruin it?” We have two restaurants that serve beer in the tiny town I grew up in, but my family didn’t eat out often, and my parents only drink alcohol on holidays. I tried beer in college, but I found it too bitter.
“You didn’t ruin it. It just needs to settle.” He reaches around me—he’s so close I stop breathing. RJ grabs a bottle from the six-pack and twists the top off, then picks up the extra glass. Angling it to the side, he empties the bottle into it, filling it about two-thirds of the way. His only foams a little. “Do you like lemonade or grapefruit juice?” he asks.
“I love grapefruit juice!”
His smile is what sunrises are made of. He saunters to the fridge, which means I have a moment to appreciate his very defined back muscles while he retrieves a jug of juice. He tops off the glass and hands it to me. “Give it a taste.”
I take a tentative sip. “Oh! This is yummy. I guess maybe I don’t mind beer as much as I thought.”
His smile widens. “You’re the best thing in the world, you know that?”
A warm feeling spreads through my entire body. No one has ever paid me such a nice compliment before. There are a lot of amazing things in the world, and that he thinks I’m the best is, well . . . surprising. So of course I blurt out my own self-assessment. “I’m awkward and nervous.”
“Well, I like it. A lot.” After a few seconds of intense silence, he motions to the couch. “Sit with me for a bit? We can be awkward and nervous together.”
“You’re not awkward.”
He shrugs. “Sometimes I am. We all can be, context and situation depending.”
“Sure. Okay.” I follow him to the living room.
His cabin is open concept; giant bark-stripped and sanded tree trunks function as posts with no walls to separate the rooms. The ceilings are high, and the entire front of the cabin is lined with windows, providing an unobstructed view of the water.
A fire crackles across the room, throwing off heat, which probably accounts for RJ’s shirtlessness. It’s definitely hot in here.
A huge framed photo of RJ and two other men—one likely his father—holding a giant fish hangs on the wall, and beside it is another photo containing two women: his mother and sister, judging from the matching dimple in the younger woman’s cheek. There are also a lot of sports accents scattered around, mainly hockey related. The throw cushions read PUCK YEAH! There’s a lamp in the corner, and the base is made out of a hockey stick. Even the coasters are old hockey pucks.
“Wow, so you must be huge sports fans.” I pick up one of the puck coasters.