Birthday

In which a girl gets all her birthday wishes.

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5. 9:12 p.m.

9:12 p.m.

Mila bites her lip nervously, not for the first time since the second she saw his face. She’s been avoiding eye contact for the past five minutes even though the restaurant is starting to simmer down and the chatter around them is dying a little. They’ll have to leave soon, she knows, for whatever Hartley—that conniving bitch—has arranged for them. She sighs. Well, this can’t get any more awkward…

“Here,” he says finally after sighing too. She looks up. He’s offering her a bite off his decadent carrot cake…and of course, she can’t resist, even if she does have an amazing birthday cake waiting for her in her refrigerator at home. But again, knowing who’s still in her house, Mila thinks Hartley’s eaten all of it. Her thoughts return to her best friend. Yeah, Mila’s going to kill Hartley once she gets back.

She smiles as graciously as she can and reaches out with her fork. “Thank you, Luke,” she says quietly. “I—I’m sorry for this mess, and—”

“No, it’s fine.” Luke’s shaking his head, and his bright blue eyes focus on her. “Sorry on my part for being the guy you’re spending your birthday evening with. You deserve more.”

What the hell is he talking about? Mila takes a bite of cake, resisting the urge to groaning in appreciation, and glances down at her empty plate. “No, this is…kind of perfect. This must cost you a fortune.”

“Oh, don’t worry. Hartley and I are sharing the bill. You should have nothing to worry about.” Luke raises his hand at a passing waiter and asks for the bill quietly. He turns back to her. “I have something arranged for you, if you don’t mind.”

“Of course I don’t,” she murmurs. She hopes she isn’t looking too desperate, glancing up at him through her long eyelashes at him. He inhales sharply and glances down at his plate, where there’s still a half-finished piece of cake.

“Yeah,” he says.

And there’s another silence between them until the waiter arrives with the bill. It’s the same waiter who led Mila to the table, and he smiles at them. “I hope you enjoyed your meal?”

“Definitely,” Luke says before Mila can respond. He hands over the folder immediately. “Thank you. We’ll be heading out now.” He stands up and walks over to Mila’s side of the table, offering her his arm with a devastating little smile on his lips. “Walk with me?”

Again, she makes her way across the restaurant, where there are fewer adults chatting and more people drinking, her heels sinking into the carpet. But this time, she’s on his arm and she can’t feel any more aware of his presence. Idly, she wonders what people at school would say if they saw the two of them—a lacrosse player and mousy, forgettable Mila Beauregard. She frowns.

Luke senses it immediately without looking down. “You all right there?” he asks, glancing down at her with those blue eyes. “I can take you home now; it’s been awkward, and I don’t really know what to do, and Hartley’s being weird, and you should probably…” His voice trails off.

Aw, he’s awkward, just like me, Mila thinks. She smiles faintly up at him. “No, I’m sure you shouldn’t cancel whatever Hartley had planned.”

He rolls his eyes as they walk out the door of the restaurant and he nods at the maître d’hôtel, who waves them off with an almost avuncular smile. “I guess you can tell her that I changed my mind; we’re heading somewhere else.”

They head for the car, the very car that Hartley took that morning to drive herself and Mila to the mall. “You can tell her yourself. And she finally surrendered the car to me for ‘a worthy cause.’ And I’m glad she did.”

She’s speechless. After all, she and Hartley did go to drop off the car at Hartley’s house after their shopping trip…

Finally, they’re at his car, and he opens the passenger door for her. She hops in, self-consciously pulling her black dress down over her thighs. Why did Hartley have to pick such a tight dress? To emphasize the few curves that Mila has? She forces herself to stop thinking once he’s in the driver’s seat next to her—not that she can usually think when she’s around him anyway.

He clears his throat as he backs out of the parking spot. “So, um,” he starts, “how was your shopping trip with Hartley? You two certainly had lunch late.”

Yeah, because you were right there when I sort of humiliated myself. Mila looks out the window. “Um, yeah, it was fine.”

There’s another silence between them.

Since when has conversation between the two of them been so awkward? Even if her feelings have evolved over years as he turns into this distinguished, gorgeous boy next door who can never look at her as anything more than his sister, they have always been comfortable with each other. Hell, even on the days when he walks around shirtless at the pool, Mila’s been able to pull at least one half-hearted witty remark out of her head when he makes conversation with her. What is this now?

Hartley has fucking ruined everything.

Mila can’t decide if she hates or loves her best friend for forcing her to spend more time with her sibling.

She frowns as she recognizes where the car is heading. “Are you sure we’re supposed to be here? Hartley was saying something about nature and stars and other stupid romantic gestures…before I knew it was you, of course.”

“Right.” He glances sideways at her. Is it her, or does he look a little crestfallen? She shrugs it off. “I know what I’m doing, Mi. Change of plans, remember?”

“Right,” she repeats.

Well, maybe Luke has something wacky up his sleeve, because they’re pulling into the driveway of his house right now. His parents’ bedroom light is on, and Mila can make out their silhouettes through the curtains. She’s sure Luke doesn’t want them to spot the two of them at this time tonight. And strangely enough, Hartley’s bedroom light isn’t on. Mila hopes she won’t be crashing at her house for too long. A girl has to have alone time to mope over birthday cake about her failed date with her crush sometimes.

Luke pauses a little after he turns off the engine. “I know, this isn’t the place you envisioned,” he says lowly, “but trust me on this one, ‘kay?”

She nods and opens the passenger door to get out. For some reason, Luke leads her to his backyard. She’s wobbling on her high heels even though they’re walking through level ground with nothing but grass and a few occasional pebbles. She hopes she doesn’t fall down in front of him—that would just top off the night perfectly. They walk further out into the backyard, in fact, to where the huge old tree stands. It brings back so many memories…

He stops at the trunk of the tree, placing his hand on the bark. She stands next to him, leaning on the tree as well. She thinks this might be just her, but she swears she can see his blue eyes shine through the darkness at her.

“Do you remember when we used to mess back here and pretend we were in some huge forest in a fantasy land where our parents couldn’t find us?” His eyes dance.

She doesn’t know where he’s going, but she nods. “Yes…”

“And the treehouse?”

She can’t resist a smile. “Yes.”

“We, uh, took it down earlier this month.” Luke looks down. “It was getting too unstable for anyone to play in it, and since we’re all leaving for college next year, there’ll be no one to play in it anyway.”

“Oh.” She frowns a little. The treehouse was the center of her childhood, because as she and Hartley and Luke pretended to be princesses and knights and monsters, she grew up with him, and, inevitably, she fell for him. Now that’s gone. So much for memories.

“I was helping Dad take it down. And”—his eyes catch onto hers now, and she can’t look away—“I kind of realized something.”

“How we’ve grown up now?”

He shrugs. “Yeah. No. Sort of.” He turns away from her a little, running a hand through his hair. “Um.” He looks back to her. “Well, I realized we’re all different now.”

Like we’re growing apart? Your world is so far away from mine anyway. Mila bites her lip. “Yeah.”

“And you,” he says, his eyes moving back to hers, pinning her in place. “You’ve grown up so much, and I never really saw it. I don’t know; I’ve grown up with you, and now you’re here, standing in front of me with that incredible dress and those doe eyes, and—”

Oh my God. This can’t be happening right now. She looks up, looks more deeply into his eyes. She feels like she wants to collapse now; this can’t be real. This is the stuff of dreams, the object of daydreams. And this can’t be her fate, the girl who always stands in the shadows when it comes to him.

And as she sinks into his eyes, she accepts it. This is real. And she can’t lose her chance now.

“Luke…” she whispers.

“I might love you,” he murmurs as his face is moving closer to hers.

She lets out a sigh—a happy, shocked little sigh—and links her arms around his neck. “I love you too.”

There’s no need for fireworks or parties or anything for the two of them. This is enough, this serendipity that they’re lost in. And Mila doesn’t care if she’s lost in him forever.

As they kiss, his hand playing with a loose strand of her hair playfully, she closes her eyes.

Her wish has come true.

And aw, this is the end! I really love the sweetness and everything...I only wish I had a childhood friend like Luke. Why can't my life be like Mila's?

All right, guys, thank you so much for following this book on its brief journey! Thank you for favoriting, commenting, and just following along in general! Hailey (from her brief mention a couple chapters back) and Calvin and Mila and Luke and Hartley send their love (through me, of course).

Anyway, you guys may or may not see a little more of Hartley and what her love life's been up to...

Thank you so much again! Leave any questions or comments below :)

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