She’s a little annoyed that she and Hartley had been on their feet since literally 8:30 a.m., but she doesn’t particularly feel like spoiling Hartley’s mood now, even if she is the birthday girl. She glances at her phone, and just on cue, her stomach rumbles. “Are we done yet?” she grumbles to Hartley, who’s comparing two pairs of jeans that look exactly the same.
“Of course not,” Hartley says, rolling her eyes. “Shopping trips always take over three hours. Thought you knew.”
“Yeah.” Mila fiddles with a shirt hanging on a rack nearby. “Yeah, it would have been a little less boring if we were shopping for me and you, not just you.”
“Sorry, Mi.” Hartley places the jeans back down on the display. “I know this isn’t exactly your dream birthday.” She sighs. “I wish I could get you something better, but…”
“Yeah, it’s my birthday, whatever.” Mila resists the urge to roll her eyes. “Don’t worry about it. Although you should at least feed the birthday girl so she doesn’t starve to death.”
Hartley rolls her eyes now. “Yeah, this birthday girl has no patience whatsoever. But fine, I’ll take both and we’ll head by the food court. I thought I bought you a smoothie already.”
Mila grabs the shirt off the rack. Why not? The two head toward the checkout counter, where, thankfully, there isn’t a line. “Yeah, you bought me that smoothie at ten. Five hours ago. I’m not trying to be anorexic, you know, although losing weight was one of my New Year’s resolutions.”
“That didn’t end up well. It’s way over half-way through the year and you’ve made, like, no progress,” Hartley remarks as they move a spot up in line. Mila scowls playfully at her. With a shrug, Hartley adds quickly, balancing her clothes over her arm, “I mean, at least your cousin Hailey ended up with her boyfriend again. I heard from her recently; is it true that they’re getting married soon?”
“You text my family members more than I text them.” Mila steps in front of Hartley in line when the clerk signals for them to move forward to checkout. “What?” she says when Hartley sends her a dirty look. “Anyway, those are just rumors. Half the family hasn’t even met the guy yet although Hailey tells me he’s hot.”
Hartley shrugs. “Well, I’d love to meet him. You know I go for the older guys.”
“Yeah,” Mila says although her mind is drifting off. I certainly don’t go for the older guys, she thinks vaguely. Luke…
So far, Luke’s wrong. Mila and Hartley haven’t stumbled upon anyone from their school yet, and Mila intends for matters to stay that way. Something inside her wants to see him after that stupid perverted comment, but maybe it isn’t wise. After all, Hartley isn’t blind, and Mila doesn’t want her to make a scene on her birthday, out of all days. And with school coming up in just a few weeks, Mila can’t stand any drama that she can avoid in the first place.
“Hey, where’s your head today?” Hartley taps Mila’s shoulder as they’re steadily approaching the food court on the third floor of the mall. They push past the other giggling teenagers, whom Mila doesn’t recognize. Hartley glances at their bags. “Abercrombie and Fitch, ugh.”
“On my shoulders, thank you very much. I don’t think I’ll be executed any time soon.” Mila plays with her phone in her pocket. She thinks someone has texted her—or maybe she’s just hearing phantom phone notification noises. She can’t really tell anymore.
“Oh, shut up.” Hartley glances by the movie theater. “Some good movies are out right now. Wanna see one after we grab some lunch?”
Mila pushes past her best friend. “Some food is long overdue.”
There are only a few people standing in front of the booths and sitting in the tables since the lunchtime rush hour is long over. But as Mila stands in a short line for pizza, she sees a group of four that she recognizes from this morning. She takes in a breath and looks decidedly at the posted menu of the shop. What should she get? Pizza or pasta? What a choice.
Someone taps her on the shoulder. “Hey, what are you getting?”
“Stop it, Luke,” she says, still staring ahead as if her body isn’t already heating up from just his presence. “You can go bother your sister.”
“She’s no fun.” Luke steps up so that he’s standing next to her. She takes in a shallow breath. “She keeps pulling the ‘older sister’ card even though she was born literally three minutes before me.”
“You’re fine, Mi.” He pauses, presumably to glance at the menu too. “Happy birthday, by the way. Coldstone’s after this? I’ll pay.”
Mila glances behind them; his friends are waiting at their booth not too far away. “It’s okay. There are people waiting for you.”
He rolls his eyes and slings an arm over her shoulders. “You can’t stop avoiding me. We haven’t seen you two all morning? Did Hart make you skip lunch?”
Yeah, well, maybe the two of them did avoid the stores where Luke would be…but that wasn’t Mila’s decision.
She steps up once it’s her turn and ignores all of Luke’s attempts at conversation with a teasing smile although all she wants to do is to get back to Hartley. God, this guy can make her sweat more than Gym class can. She doesn’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. Luke’s calling her name repeatedly now; he knows that’s annoying to her.
“Shut up, will you?” she says as she pulls out her purse. Before she can do anything, Luke hands over a twenty dollar bill and tells the worker to keep the change. “What’s that for?”
“The birthday girl should have everything today,” he responds, shrugging a little. They keep standing there, steadily watching each other. Mila breaks the staring contest, glancing down at her tray.
“I—er, um—I,” she stutters. His blue eyes are still watching her. “Thanks, and…you should get back to your friends!” And she rushes off toward where Hartley is waving a napkin as if it’s a flag before he can say anything.
Her cheeks are burning as she sets down the tray next to Hartley’s seat with an unnecessarily loud thump. It’s probably not helping her case that she’s also avoiding eye contact, but she just takes her fork and knife and sits down heavily. She glances up. “What?”
Hartley’s eyes are narrowed. “Did I just see my brother paying for your food?”
“Yeah, big deal. It’s not the school cafeteria, you know. He pays for my lunch all the time.” Maybe that was a lie. But not really. Luke did pay for her lunch sometimes when she forgot her money…
Hartley sighs. “Mi…”
Mila shakes her head. “No. It’s nothing. Don’t even bring it up.”
“Fine, whatever.” Hartley sits down. “Hey, I got a burrito and I don’t think I can eat it all. Because I’m actually following through my New Year’s Resolution.”
Mila laughs, although it’s half-hearted. “Stop making me feel bad about myself.” She glances over to the side, where Luke and his friends are eating. He’s sitting next to the girl, and their shoulders are touching…
Hartley follows her eyes. “Stop it, M. We’re done. You’re not going to spend your birthday moping over how your parents aren’t here for you and how my brother’s being an ass. We’re going to eat this burrito and that big-ass slice of pizza my brother bought and then we’re going to buy you a dress.” Mila’s eyes don’t move. Hartley reaches out and grabs onto her wrist so tightly that Mila swears she is cutting off circulation.
Mila sighs and pulls away. “Fine.” She picks up her pizza slice and takes a bite of it. It’s stringy and hot—her favorite. “Whatever. Like it’s gonna make a difference.”
Hartley shakes her head. “Yes,” she says sharply. “It will.”
And they spend the rest of their lunch together in silence. It takes everything in Mila’s will to keep herself from glancing over at him again. In the silence, though, she realizes something: out of all people, why does it have to be Luke? To him, she’s the girl next door, the girl who’s basically a second sister. Why does she have to think of him as something more than her brother? Why can’t she have a puppy dog obsession with the school’s hottest football player? Life would be so much simpler then.
But life isn’t simple. And because of that, she’s sitting here, stuck with an inferiority complex, with her best friend and the love of her life a couple feet away.
Hartley stands up abruptly. “I need to use the restroom. Don’t you dare move an inch, bitch.” Mila rolls her eyes.
“Of course, Your Highness.”
After waiting ten minutes, Mila wonders what in the world Hartley can be doing in there. Since she’s not distracted, her eyes start to move involuntarily toward the booth of four teenagers nearby. And she’s not pleased. Luke’s placing a kiss on the girl’s cheek as his fingers type something out on his phone…and that blue-eyed devil, he meets Mila’s eyes!
She flushes, quickly directing her stare back down onto the empty red tray in front of her. She stays like that for the next five minutes until Hartley comes back, a little smirk on her face.
“So I guess relieving yourself was really exciting,” Mila says, picking up her tray to put it away. Hartley walks next to her, the glint in her eye still sparkling.
“No, not particularly.”
Mila glances back at Luke, and her heart sinks again. She pulls herself back forward. “And why are you smiling like that? You’re starting to scare me.”
Hartley waits until Mila’s done with her trash. “Well,” she says, putting a hand on Mila’s shoulder, “you, my friend, and your nonexistent love life are getting an upgrade.”
“By that you mean…”
“We need to get you a dress!” Hartley pulls her toward the escalators, practically squealing all the way. “Someone’s got you a blind date tonight.”
Hartley's my bae. Just saying. She's my best friend, except she doesn't really know it yet.
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