Home > Here (Here in Lillyvale #1)

Here (Here in Lillyvale #1)
Author: Jenny Bunting

1

 

 

“Get it together, woman,” Zoey Benton said out loud to herself. Her hands hadn’t stopped shaking since she fled the vacation rental in her best friend Caroline’s car.

Caroline had prepped her for months. You will have to get over the fact that Jonathan is the best man. You both are adults and can handle being in the same room as one another. It will be fine.

She was not fine.

When Caroline’s phone dinged with an incoming text telling her he was five minutes away, Zoey had a meltdown. There was furious pacing. There were a few f-bombs and even the c-word, directed at no one in particular. Caroline had shooed her off, pushing the keys into her hand.

“Go get some coffee or something,” Caroline had said. “Come back when you’re normal.”

Usually, Zoey would say something snarky in retort, but she bolted out the door with no comeback. She had replayed the Rocky theme on blast driving to the coffee shop, but she still wanted to explode from her skin.

After a spirited pep talk to herself, she got out of the car and walked into Blue Tahoe Coffee. The smell of coffee surrounded her like a comfort blanket. Even if she couldn’t really afford coffee at that moment, it felt necessary. Treat yourself, Zoey thought. It wasn’t every day that a lady was in a wedding with three of her ex-boyfriends on the other side, one of whom was the groom.

The groom needed a backup groomsman and asked her ex, Dan, who was still a good friend. That wasn’t a big deal.

However, the guy who broke her heart eleven years ago was the fucking best man.

Zoey approached a barista with green-tipped hair and a lip ring, jovially chatting with another barista hidden behind the pastry case. “One large iced coffee. Literally the biggest one you got,” Zoey said, pantomiming a huge cup no business would ethically sell.

The bored barista keyed in the order with annoyed jabs at the keys. “Do you want room?”

“No, just pour it to the top,” Zoey said. She tried to stop herself, but she continued. “I didn’t get a lot of sleep last night.”

“That will be $4.15,” the barista said.

Zoey scoffed at the price. When did coffee become so expensive? The barista’s eyes bore into Zoey as she pulled out the bills and fished around for change. She tried to pull a dime out, but it got caught in the hole of her wallet, which needed to be replaced three years ago. As she clipped the dime between her fingers, the word vomit flowed out of her.

“All of my ex-boyfriends are in the same wedding as me, and I’m freaking out,” Zoey said with a nervous laugh. “Actually, I’m really freaking out since my ex from high school—his name is Jonathan, by the way—is the best man, and that breakup was messy.”

“Four…fif…teen,” the barista hissed. Dammit, she had done it again. Did it stop her? Nope.

“You see,” Zoey said, leaning against the counter. “I’ve moved on. I’m not bitter.”

Lies. All lies.

She witnessed pieces of the barista’s soul leave his body as she continued.

“It’s just that I’ve done a great job of avoiding him. Four years ago, I saw him at the mall and ducked in a Banana Republic dressing room for forty-five minutes.”

The barista huffed and said: “Are you going to give me the money or not, lady? There’s people waiting.” The barista’s eyes looked behind her.

“I haven’t seen him in eleven years, and I am so fucking nervous.”

“You said fucking really loud,” the barista said. The barista held out his hand, scrunching his fingers to summon the money faster.

Before the barista took her cash, a hand shot out to her right with a card.

“Make that two iced coffees, please. All the way to the top,” a deep man’s voice boomed behind her.

Zoey froze, and all the blood drained from her body. She would’ve known that voice anywhere.

Please don’t let it be him. It can’t be him. He would’ve heard all of that.

“Name for the order?” the barista asked, a black Sharpie primed against the plastic.

Zoey closed her eyes.

“Jonathan,” the deep voice said.

“Oh my God,” Zoey whispered to herself.

Of course she looked a hot mess. Her frizzy hair was in a messy topknot, her shirt had a sauce stain on it, and her old joggers had a hole in the crotch. This was not how she wanted this first meeting to go. She hoped she would have had at least an hour to fix her appearance before he showed up at the house. Then he decided to be early, messing up all her plans.

She shouldn’t be surprised. He was great at ruining plans.

Zoey turned around to a sight that had made her break out in cold sweats for months, ever since Caroline had broken the news over two bottles of wine in early February. They were going to be in the same wedding, whether Zoey liked it or not.

Her ex, Jonathan Turner, stood there with a huge grin. A sight scarier than any Stephen King novel.

The person standing in front of her couldn’t be the same person. That gangly boy she had dated in high school was now a man with dark stubble against a squared-out jawline and broad shoulders. His brown hair was shorter and a bit messy, but in a hot way, and his dimples still cut into his cheeks. Muscles bulged under his shirt. Did he grow taller as well? Zoey didn’t recall him towering over her quite like he was now. Had he been training for this?

She had secretly hoped he had at least lost some hair or succumbed to a sedentary lifestyle so this reunion would be less jarring. If she had wanted to jump him when he weighed less than her and had a punchable, pop-star haircut, she was fucked when presented with this grown-up version with skin smoother than hers.

“Hiiiiiiiiiii,” Zoey said, waving her arms wide, like she was a Broadway chorus line performer. “Didn’t expect to see you here. Like this.” She placed her hand on her hip, with the other hand planted on the counter. To make matters worse, she flamingoed her leg, and she knew she looked like an idiot.

“Well, Caroline said you might be getting coffee so I thought I’d try to see you before everyone else was around. Get the awkward out of the way.”

“Awkward? How could this be awkward?” Zoey said with a one-note laugh and a finger gun. She wanted to die. Right then. Before she died, though, she was going to murder Caroline.

Jonathan tucked his hands in his pockets like he was in a Times Square ad. This was too much.

“So you hid in the Banana Republic for forty-five minutes to avoid me? Wow, Zoey. Wow. I hope you got a sensible knit out of it.”

“Actually, I found a great chunky necklace I wear every day.” She looked down at her ratty clothes. “It obviously clashes with this outfit.”

Jonathan laughed. Oh, the laugh. Deep and throaty, like he laughed with all of himself. He looked at her and then down at his feet.

“Crazy that Caroline and Brady are getting married. We were right all along,” Jonathan said.

“I was right,” Zoey said. “It was my idea.”

“Nooo,” Jonathan said. “Remember, we went and got Slurpees, and I said, ‘we should set them up,’ and you said, ‘I don’t know if it will work, but why not?’”

Zoey rolled her eyes, and Jonathan snapped his fingers and pointed. “I’ve been waiting for that. The Zoey eye roll.”

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