It was so late into the night ... Relira didn't understand why Trent and Jax insisted on following them back to the apartment. From the backseat, she watched the headlights of Jax's truck and tried not to fall asleep.
When they got home, she was the last to slide out of the car, and her feet felt unsteady beneath her. She was so exhausted and sluggish that she missed the mischievous light in both Ari and Faith's eyes.
Trudging up the stairs, she watched Faith fumble with the keys and struggle with the lock. When the door finally swung open, Faith rushed inside, turned on the lights and waited for Relira.
"Your clothes are still inside the bags in your room, right?" Faith's voice was unusually high, and her lips kept twitching. Relira blinked at her strange expression, nodding once. " You should bring them out so that Jax and Trent can see what you got."
Sleepily, she looked over her shoulder at the others. "Can't that wait until morning?" she asked. "I'm really sleepy I might fall out if I keep standing."
"It'll only take a second." Faith took her shoulders, propelling her toward the empty room. "You know how stubborn Jax can be. They'll leave as soon as their curiosity is sated."
She hadn't heard Jax say anything about wanting to see her clothes that night. In fact, he'd been quiet since they arrived at the apartment.
Yawning, Relira dragged herself toward the room, her fingers slipping as she blindly searched the wall for the light switch. She remembered putting all of the bags near the wall, so when the light came on, Relira bent over to snatch them up without paying attention.
Her head crashed into something hard and Relira yelped, her hand falling away from the wall. She swayed, her mind ringing and forehead throbbing. Opening one eye slowly, she stared ahead, searching for whatever she'd collided into. That object was a dresser. A beautiful white dresser with a blue, heart-shaped lamp on top.
Relira stared. Rubbed her eyes, willed the sleep away, and stared again. There wasn't a dresser in the room when she left.
Moving a little closer, she reached out to touch the lamp, then the dresser, running her fingers across the silver handles. Her eyes finally pulled away - and the sight of her no longer empty room took her breath away.
A bed was now against her window ... A bed with a beautiful, thick blue comforter and pillows in different shades of blue and white thrown across the sheets. The window had a matching curtain, and on the floor was a matching rug. By the bed was an end table, another lamp and a clock. On the far side of the room was a full-length mirror. Everything matched. Everything was beautiful. It was all too perfect to be real.
The chorus of familiar voices made Relira spin around. Her friends smiled back at her.
"It's a birthday present!" Faith said, rocking back and forth on her feet. "We remembered your sisters mentioning a birthday on the phone that night, so we decided to do something for you, but we couldn't decide what, and then Ari mentioned a bedroom set, so we had to rush and search for one and I didn't think Jax would be able to pull all of this off in less than five hours, but he did-"
Clapping a hand over Faith's still moving mouth, Trent said, "It was a spur of the moment decision, but we all agreed it was the best kind of gift. Hell, for two guys working and planning all of this in a day, we didn't do half bad, right?"
Relira looked back at her room, then the others. "You mean ... all of this ... is mine?"
"Of course it is. You expect me or Jax to sleep here?"
"Bu ... But ..." It had to all be a dream. People couldn't be so nice. They couldn't have gone through the trouble. "How? Why?"
Ari put both hands on her hips. "We decided last night after you went to bed. Since you're apart of the Envy family now, we thought it'd be appropriate to help you celebrate your birthday. Faith saw this bedroom set in a catalogue, and Jax and Trent went to get it this morning. While we were out on the town, they were busy getting this set up. I'm actually impressed they did it so quickly, so well."
"Three weeks!" Relira said, her hands shaking. "My birthday isn't for another three weeks."
Trent and Jax shrugged. "Better late than never, right?"
"You spent your money - on this! For me?"
Faith pulled Trent's hand away from her mouth, her bubbly expression replaced with one of worry. "Don't tell me ... you don't like it."
"I love it! It's perfect!" Her voice was becoming shrill. She didn't want to cry. She wouldn't. "But ... But you shouldn't have. It's too much. Oh God, I promise I'll pay you all back."
Jax began to laugh. "Are you kidding? Lee Lee, do you wanna take a guess at how many shows I've booked since your performance the other day? Because of you, we're getting more attention than before. Buying this was the least we could do."
Because of me. Relira tried to blink back tears, but they just kept coming, burning her eyes and making her lip tremble. "I ... I don't ... know what to say." She felt too many emotions at once. She wanted to jump for joy. She wanted to wail. She wanted to scream at the top of her lungs, thanking Levi. Thanking him for breaking her heart so that she could meet these amazing people.
"You know, we can still plan a party since it's not technically your birthday yet," Faith said, smiling and bouncing around again. "This was impromptu. Imagine what we can do when we have three weeks to plan!"
"Oh, good idea," Ari said, excitement lining her voice. "I know a few college guys that know how to party. We'll have some beers, some music, some good food - it'll be fun."
Relira walked to her new bed, her hand falling over the baby blue pillows. "It's all so beautiful. It's better than anything I could've imagined. And you went through all of the trouble keeping me out of the house just to surprise me ..." When she turned back around, Jax was standing in front of her with a spiral-bound blue notebook in his hand.
"This is yours," he said. "Your very own notebook. Now you can write as much as you want." When she didn't lift her hand to take it from him, Jax bent forward to put his hand over her head. Leaning forward so that their eyes met, he said, "You've got a lot of feelings and a lot of stories in that little head of yours. I can't wait to hear them all."
She took the notebook with both hands, making a pathetic little sound as she held it close to her chest. "You all didn't ... I shouldn't have ... This is all so..."
It was too much to handle. She felt so much that she just ... cried. She closed her eyes and cried because she was so damn happy. Tears of joy falling down her face, Relira hiccuped and thanked them until she felt Faith wrap her arms around her trembling body.
"Don't cry," Faith crooned. " You weren't supposed to cry."
I'm crying because I'm happy!
Relira couldn't say so in between the hiccups, but Faith kept right on hugging her. It was surreal ... like a dream. To feel happiness like this after Levi ... It was a miracle.
Someone tell him please, my only true love.
Someone let him know that he was the one.
Relira pressed her lips together, trying to analyze her own voice. It still didn't seem strong enough. This particular song needed a great deal of work. Strong and loud for the chorus, a little softer for the other verses. She'd been practicing all morning, and even Faith and Ari lacked the patience to practice as long as she did.
Sitting with her legs crossed beneath her on the bed, Relira studied the words in her notebook. Without really thinking, she flipped through the pages she'd filled in the weeks after she'd received it. In between rehearsals and performances, Relira wrote and wrote until the others dragged her to bed. It was no surprise that a quarter of it was already full.
Relira sighed, turning back to her current project. She wanted to practice with Faith, but she and Ari had been planning a party for her fast-approaching birthday, and it seemed they always had calls to make, supplies to order. Their eagerness was a little bit off-putting.
"Lee Lee? You in there?"
Lifting her head at the sound of Jax's voice, Relira yelled, "Come in," while shutting her notebook and putting it aside. He came in with his usual smile, his confident stride, and reached out to squeeze her hand.
"Ari says you've been at it all day. Don't push yourself so hard." Releasing her hand, Jax touched her head, ruffling the hair as she grumbled. "I keep telling you, you're doing an amazing job as it is. You're overworking."
"Am not." When he gave her a disbelieving look, Relira said, "I don't mind practicing the way I do. Honestly, most of the time I forget I'm working. It's all just a ..." She paused, thinking of the right way to go about explaining. She finally settled with, "It's a release for me. I like singing and writing so much lately, that I don't realize how long I've been at it until you or someone else points it out."
"I understand that. I really do." The bed dipped as he sat down next to her. Relira already knew he'd ask it of her - so she went ahead and met his eyes as he spoke, even though the act made head sort of fuzzy. "I get the same release when I play my guitar, but if you don't watch yourself, you'll get exhausted. If you get exhausted, you won't be any good to us when we play."
Because she knew he spoke the truth and his words were a warning, Relira pressed her lips together and nodded. "I know. Sorry."
"Lee Lee, I'm not saying this to get you down." His voice lowering, he reached out to tip up her chin. "I want you to take care of yourself, that's all. I'd hate to see you sick." Jax bent a little closer, teasing her with his smile. "Promise me you'll take it easy, okay?"
She should've been used to his closeness by now. She should have known not to take his gestures, his sweet words and teasing as anything serious. He seemed to enjoy making her blush and stammer. He liked to pull her out of her shell, inch by inch.
Relira didn't mind, really. When Jax was teasing her, making her laugh, she didn't think of Levi. And she still spent many nights laying awake, tears in her eyes as she thought of him. Thinking of the kiss she'd never have with him, how she'd never see Abby or Kyle or Matt again.
Writing, singing and Jax ... they made her forget.
Nodding once more, Relira said, " I promise. I'll take it easy."
"I know it still hurts, you know. Even though we've all been trying to help, I get that you're still hurting." Still too close, Jax chuckled. " No one's expecting you to forget about him completely in less than a month. Unfortunately, love doesn't work that way."
She blushed, shrinking away from him. Relira tried to laugh, but it was a miserable sound. "Are you reading my thoughts?" she asked.
"It's more like I see what you're thinking by the faces you make." Flicking her chin with his finger, he said, "You're mighty easy to read."
Matt told her that a lot. She still didn't quite get what he meant.
"I'll forget him eventually," she said. "I suppose I just get carried away trying."
"You went through a lot. I understand." His finger trailed a path from her chin to her cheek, where he traced a lazy circle on her heated skin. "I understand completely. Why do you think I haven't kissed you yet?"
His words didn't register at first. Relira let it sink in, raised an eyebrow, and turned her questioning look back to Jax. "Um ... I think I misunderstood. What did you just say?"
His finger dropped from her cheek down to the corner of her mouth. Relira helplessly watched as he grinned. Knowing exactly how he made her feel. "Have I ever told you how much I love looking at your lips? They're full, soft, sweet ..."
He made it a point to look at them now, and Relira tried to pull away. "You must say that to every girl," she muttered, then wanted to kick herself for letting him know that she actually cared about his flirting with other girls. If she wasn't careful, he might actually start to think she was jealous.
Jax shrugged off her comment, his hand never leaving her face. "The girls I talk to around the city are actually pretty dull compared to you."
Almost certain she'd heard wrong, Relira squeaked, "What? Dull?" She shook her head, laughing in disbelief. "You've met me, right? I'm the dull one, Jax. There's nothing spectacular about me."
"And that's where you're wrong." He flicked her nose and chuckled when she blinked at him. "I've seen it all - Girls that pile on the makeup just to cover their own insecurities. The girls that put on a mask, acting the way they think you'll like. The ones that just want the attention by dating a musician. I've lived in this city almost my entire life, and I've never met someone like you."
This wasn't his usual flirting. He actually seemed pretty honest. Frowning, Relira asked, "What do you mean? I'm normal. Plain."
"You're a strong, beautiful woman who's been hurt to the point that she doesn't see that about herself." His expression suddenly serious, Jax reached down for her hands. He took great care in lacing their fingers, and when he finished, bent forward to look into her eyes. "You're a rarity, Relira. These past few weeks, I've been watching you open up and change, but there's still that part of you that's too pure to know how to respond to me, or how to act when I touch you like this." He stared down at their hands, strands of hair falling over his intense eyes. "You know, I have trouble explaining it, myself. I'm so used to charging in with women. I can always get what I want, but it ... just doesn't appeal to me lately."
Relira swallowed the lump in her throat, wondering if Jax felt how sweaty her palms were. He certainly didn't seem to mind. "And I ... appeal to you?" Her voice cracked around the bizarre words.
He raised his head, staring at her for a long moment, Without warning, Jax released her hand, took hold of her face and leaned in. It happened so suddenly that Relira didn't have a chance to think. One second he was a modest distance away. The next, his nose was beside hers, their foreheads were touching, and their lips were a breath apart.
His hands were on either side of her head, tangling with the curls. She stared back into his half-shut eyes, too stunned to breathe.
She was a little scared. But more than that, she was ... almost ... eager? Excited?
His fingers delved deeper, until he tugged and stroked her head with experienced hands. She felt funny, but ... not in a completely terrible way.
"Yeah," Jax said. "You appeal to me."
Relira swallowed again, licking her suddenly dry lips. Jax's fingers stilled as she did.
"What are ..." She began to wring her hands together, unsure of what else to do with them. "What are you doing to do?"
He closed his eyes, lips moving into a smile. "Nothing," he said. "For now. When you're over that guy - really over him - I'll make my move."
Well, that wasn't fair. Not after she'd gotten all hot and bothered over it.
Jax must've read her thoughts in her expression, because a chuckle escaped him. "It's not in me to take advantage of a woman who's getting over her first love. You're still hurting a lot. I see it in your music, the way you stare off into space when you think no one is looking."
"I don't stare off into space." That was a lie if she'd ever told one. And, of course Jax caught it.
"Before I start stealing kisses," he said. "Before we start exploring how we would work out ... I'll wait. So when you give me your heart ..." His hands stilled, and Relira's heart fluttered. "I'll have all of it. And I have a feeling it'll be worth the wait."
She couldn't believe he was saying such things. A handsome charmer, a born flirt ... and he wanted to wait for her. He liked her. Jax admitted to liking her.
He didn't get embarrassed. He didn't play it off in front of his friends. Every word he spoke, all of his sweetness ... It was real.
As he dropped his hand away from her face, Relira smiled. "Well, while we're waiting ... would you mind helping me with this song? It might help make the pain go away faster ..."
He just laughed at her pitiful excuse, reaching down for her notebook. "Fine," he said. "But only for a little while. Then, we go outside and pick on Ari's new boyfriend. There are other ways to take your mind off of things, and I'm looking forward to teaching you all of them."