By Caroline Lee
She’d been stood up a few times on dates over the last couple of years, but this one hurt the most. Joanne had been counting on this… but here she was, sitting in their usual back corner booth at BLVD, and her phone had just vibrated.
Sorry hon. Not going to make it. YOU GOT THIS!
She was really, really tempted to text something rude back to her best friend. How dare Lara bail when she so desperately needed her support? Only the knowledge that she’d pushed her friend into tonight stayed her hand.
Lara must’ve been waiting for a response, because when she didn’t get one, Joanne’s phone vibrated again. Jo? It’s going to be OK. I know UR freakin out, but you look hawt, and Shawn is going to love you.
He already did love her, according to that super-awkward conversation from this afternoon. How in the heck was she supposed to know what to believe anymore? Not least of all about her bestie. How do you know how I look? Her fingers shook so hard—in anger, or sheer terror of facing Shawn alone?—that it took three tries to spell “know” correctly.
I knew you were there! Joanne could hear Lara’s triumphant smirk in the words. You always look hawt, esp when you do that messy bun. You wearin the little blue dress? They’d gone shopping for New Year’s Eve together, but Lara knew Joanne well enough to know that she’d wear it early.
Good. Order a drink and think sexily.
Think sexily? That was her only advice? Joanne groaned, and dropped the phone screen-down on the sticky table, hoping she didn’t have to deal with any more well-intentioned suggestions from Lara. She was gathering up her purse and scarf to escape when she saw him, pushing his way through the crowds with two drinks in hand.
Shawn stopped by the booth, and dios mio, did he look fine. The same thick coat from earlier, unbuttoned inside, and he must’ve stashed a hat someplace, because his hair was wonderfully tousled. More than anything, Joanne wanted to run her fingers through it… and judging from the wicked sparkle in his eye, he knew it.
“Your friend isn’t here yet?”
“No.” Joanne scowled. “She bailed.”
“Good.” His smile was wicked too, but she couldn’t help smiling back at his good humor. Shawn slid into the booth across from her, and passed her one of the drinks, which she grabbed, grateful for some way to occupy her hands. “Just us then.”
“How was your Christmas?” Joanne almost winced at the way she blurted out the question, knowing that it sounded desperate and awkward. But she was awkward, and desperate for any conversation that wasn’t about his earlier confession.
“It was nice, thanks. Low-key. I hung out with my Mom and sister and her boyfriend. How about yours?”
The genuine warmth in his maple eyes told her that he wasn’t just making small talk, and Joanne felt herself relaxing. “Good.” She chuckled a bit. “Loud. The opposite of ‘low-key’, I guess.”
“Your family visited?”
“Yeah, and you know Puerto Ricans. Get a houseful of us together, and everyone has to talk louder to be heard over anyone else. It was hectic.”
“It sounds wonderful.”
They smiled at each other, and it seemed to open the gates to all the discussions they’d missed. Questions about what they’d been doing over the last years mixed with updates on old classmates and mutual friends. Shawn told her all about his new business and the traveling he’d done during college, and Joanne explained how she’d been able to earn money from her fashion blogging.
It was just like old times. She was perfectly at ease with him, loving the fact that he didn’t intimidate her the way other men sometimes did. In fact, two hours and another drink went by before she realized it.
But all good things must end, and when he checked his watch around eleven, he abruptly straightened. “I’m sorry, Jojo, but I have to cut this short. I have a project due in the morning.”
She smiled, refusing to be awkward again. “That’s okay. I’ve gotta get home too.”
“Can I…” His gaze flitted to the bar, and then the ceiling, and then the table, and that’s when Joanne realized he was hesitating. Mr. Sexy himself was awkward? Around her? “Do you have plans for New Year’s Eve?”
“Yes.” She was watching movies with Novia and Yana and eating popcorn. But when his face fell, she hurried to assure him, reveling in this new role as the not-awkward one. “But nothing that can’t be changed.”
“Would you… would you like to spend the night with me? I mean—” Those gorgeous maple eyes went wide. “I mean, spend the evening. New Years. The evening of New Year’s Eve… with me?”
Joanne smiled. “Yeah. I think I’d like that.”