When Jillian moved next door, she refused to get out of the car. I climbed into the backseat beside her and promised to never leave her.
Now, I'm driving her a thousand miles away, so she can leave me.
She has to go. What else would she do? Follow me and my band from one cheap bar to another, get hit on by sleazy promoters? Because Jillian would definitely get hit on. She's the most gorgeous, talented girl I've ever known, and she doesn't even see it.
This scholarship gives Jillian the chance to study at the best design school in the country. It's what she's always wanted. I won't stand in the way of her dreams, no matter how much it hurts to watch her go. I just wish she wasn't leaving without knowing the truth.
The headlights flashed across the Pennsylvania Welcomes You sign just as my playlist ended. Reaching for my phone, I scanned through others. I needed music to fill the growing hollowness inside me. Moving my best friend, Jillian, to design school was one of the hardest damn things I’d ever had to do.
With the cruise set at eighty, I watched the odometer tack on mile after mile. Jillian snored away in the passenger seat, her head against the window, legs stretched out, bare feet resting on the dashboard. Every now and then, I’d sneak a quick peek at her and smile, years of friendship played on a highlight reel in my head.
Twelve years ago, after Jillian’s parents died during the 9/11 attacks, she came to live with her grandparents—my neighbors. The day she arrived, she refused to get out of the car. I climbed into the backseat with her, offered her my hand, and promised to always make her smile. I’d never leave her. Now, I was driving her a thousand miles away, so she could leave me.
When she’d been offered a scholarship to an elite design school in Rhode Island, I was thrilled for her. Jillian always dreamed of being a designer. After everything she’d been through, losing her parents at such a young age, and struggling to overcome her self-harm tendencies as she got older, it was time something positive came her way. But, it wasn’t until now that I realized just how many miles stood between Rhode Island and Illinois…between Jillian and me.
“Uhhh,” I groaned, pressing my feet into the floorboard, stretching the best I could. I needed some tunes to liven up the drive. The lonely, dark road was fucking with my state of mind. With the pad of my thumb, I swiped through countless artists on my iPhone, finally deciding on the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I needed something heavy, loud, and bass-driven to pull me out of my current funk. Letting my head fall against the headrest, I fingered Flea’s bass riffs along the steering wheel.
Jillian sighed and moved her head from the window, placing it back onto the seat. Wisps of blonde and orange hair covered her face and her neck slumped at an odd angle. No way was she comfortable. Hell, I wasn’t comfortable. It was almost eleven. I was tired, hungry, and I really needed a restroom.
Holding the wheel steady with my left hand, I used my right to rock her gently. “Jillian. Jillian, wake up.”
She blinked a few times and sat up, still half asleep. Her hair was a tangled mess on top her head, like a pile of vanilla ice cream swirled with orange sherbet. I ran my palm over her head, smoothing some of the pieces back where they belonged.
Jillian looked out her window, then back to me. “I’m sorry,” she croaked, her voice thick with sleep. “I didn’t mean to fall asleep on you. What time is it?” She lowered her pale legs from the dash and raised her arms high, stretching.
She wore a faded t-shirt featuring my band, Mine Shaft, and like any red-blooded male, it didn’t escape my attention when the t-shirt rode up, exposing the small patch of skin above the waist of her yoga pants. She wasn’t the scrawny little girl who used to play in the dirt with me.
I removed my hand from her head with a sigh and adjusted the volume knob, reducing Anthony Kiedis to background noise. “It’s just after eleven.”
“Ugh, I hope there’s a good yoga class on campus.” She yawned, arching her back. “Where are we?”
I took the next exit, getting off the turnpike, following the blue signs to the nearest hotel. “We’re in Pennsylvania. Do you want to keep driving or call it a night?” The choice was up to her; if she wanted me to keep going, I would. But, I hoped she didn’t. I was beat.
“Shit, I’m sorry. I should have taken over the wheel a hundred miles ago.”
“It’s alright.” I flashed her a smile. “You looked too peaceful to wake up.” More than peaceful, she looked gorgeous. Many times throughout the night, I’d fought the urge to run my fingers through her hair, or touch her porcelain cheeks.
But then I reminded myself, friends didn’t get to touch.
Three months ago, I’d had my chance. Back in May, the easygoing friendship Jillian and I had as children was obliterated the second she kissed me. In that moment, I wanted to do a whole hell of a lot more than kiss her.
A light wind whistled through the doorway, causing Jillian’s long hair to float on the breeze. Without a second thought, her hand came up and she swiftly tucked the flying strands behind her ears. I would have liked to do that for her...but it was too late. I kept my hands in my lap.
Stretching out my legs, I leaned my back against the wall of the little old cabin. Jillian did the same, resting her head against the dusty log walls. This cabin had been our place in high school. Off the beaten path, in a forested section of the state college campus, the miniature cabin became the home to many late night talks, song writing sessions, and countless other memories. Where most childhood friends have treehouses, Jillian and I had a tiny cabin in the woods.
After having dinner with my parents and sister, Jillian insisted on coming out here. Since she was leaving for college in three months, it seemed fitting that we needed to say good-bye to “our cabin”.
She’d been quiet since we’d gotten here. “What’s on your mind, Jillibean?” I nudged her with my shoulder.
“Hmm,” she hummed. “Nothing. Just enjoying the night. It’s always so peaceful out here.”
“Yeah, it is.” I closed my eyes and listened to the crickets chirp. In the distance an owl hooted.
“Yeah?” I answered, but kept my eyes closed. I liked the way her voice mingled with the sound of the wind.
With a tap on my shoulder, I rolled my head in her direction, and opened my eyes. Our faces were less than an inch apart. My pulse went from zero to erratic in the matter of second and the cabin grew stuffy. Jillian’s midnight eyes searched my face.
My eyes fell to her mouth. Like so many times before, I wanted to kiss her. What would her lips feel like on mine? What did she taste like?
I moved my head closer…the tips of our noses touched and Jillian sucked in a tiny breath.
What noises could I elicit from her? How loud could I make her scream my name?
And while my mind conjured a dozen and a half erotic scenarios, Jillian closed her mouth on mine.
I shivered at the memory and readjusted in the seat, trying to accommodate the bulge in my pants.
It had taken every ounce of energy I possessed not to push my hands through her long, rainbow-dyed hair, press her against the cabin wall, and show her exactly why she couldn’t leave me at the end of the summer.
Her lips were hot and full, and I wanted to devour her. My hands itched to explore the curves of her tiny frame. With just one kiss, she’d released a flood of emotions I’d never felt for another woman.
And it scared the shit out of me.
Jillian was my friend…my best friend. If we ventured down that path, I feared she’d give up on her dream to stay with me. I didn’t want her to blow off design school and stay in Illinois and end up at the junior college. She was too talented for community college. I wanted more for her. I’d spent so many years trying to protect her from every pain and sadness life threw her way, I worried she’d grown too reliant on me. She needed this opportunity to spread her wings and find herself.
With one infinitesimal nudge—all I could muster—I pushed her way. When our lips parted, I could still taste her, and like a starving man, I wanted more. Energy crackled between us. Jillian stared at me, desire and confusion pooling in her dark chocolate eyes. Her expression begged me for an explanation. Then I told her the biggest lie of all: I only wanted to be friends.
And now she was leaving…without knowing the truth.
About the Author
Marie Meyer was a Language Arts teacher for fourteen years. She spends her days in the classroom and her nights writing heartfelt new adult romances that will leave readers clamoring for more. She is a member of RWA and the St. Louis Writers Guild. Marie's short fiction won honorable mentions from the St. Louis Writers Guild in 2010 and 2011. She is a proud mommy and enjoys helping her oldest daughter train for the Special Olympics, making up silly stories with her youngest daughter, and bingeing on weeks of DVR'd television shows with her husband.