Drew and Miri are often quick to remind me that I have a penchant for the being overdramatic and needy. That also means that I tend to complain about things I don't think are fair or when things are not to my liking.
But the minute I crossed the threshold of my apartment after opening night and saw my rose-covered living room, I couldn't find a single thing to complain about. Not a single thing.
"What in the world!" I exclaimed. "Drew, what is this?"
He smirked at me. "Well, Laney, those would be flowers called roses. They're usually given to someone as a gesture of goodwill or affection."
Despite his condescending tone, I couldn't help but be touched and awed by the sight. "You did this?" I whispered. "For me?"
He came up behind me and wrapped his arms around my middle. Then he nuzzled his face into the crook of my neck and shoulder and murmured, "Of course. Do you know anyone else who lives in this apartment?"
I turned to look at him and I felt the floor of my stomach drop out. He was staring at me with such tenderness that he could have asked me to jump off the edge of the Grand Canyon with him and I would have readily agreed. "It's beautiful."
He shook his head. "No, you're beautiful. You were beautiful tonight on stage, Laney. And you're incredible. I just wanted to do something for you, so you'd get to see how beautiful and incredible you are."
All of it welled up inside of me like a balloon. I felt like I was rising. This was the headiest feeling I had ever experienced; I was on top of the world, I was floating, I was all sorts of things. I was floating in this intense sea of happiness and I was threatening to drown in it.
The words surged to the tip of my tongue. The words I had let slip the first time we had sex had come back to mind, threatening to spill out. They seemed more appropriate now that ever, especially since we were actually dating this time and since he had done this amazing, beautiful thing for me. And there they sat, in my mouth, pushing at the seam of my lips, trying to come out.
But I swallowed them down. I couldn't say it.
Drew leaned forward and took my lips with his, which made words impossible and unnecessary anyway. "I have another surprise for you."
"You do?" I murmured as he pushed my sweater off my shoulders.
"Yeah. Do you want to know what it is?"
I smiled against his lips and reached for the buckle on his belt. "Is it in your pants? If so, I think I already know."
He grinned back at me and lifted the hem of my shirt to run his hot fingers across my stomach. "Nailed it in one."
We didn't even have time to make it to a bedroom. We could only make it to the couch, which was already covered in a thin layer of velvety rose petals. We fell against one another, to the same song and dance so familiar to us. He had the ability to make me feel like the most beautiful woman in the world, and I cherished every second of it.
When we were finished, we just lay there among the rose petals, holding one another. And as I started to drift off into a contented sleep, I thought I heard his gentle voice whisper, "I love you, Laney."
But I had already drowned in the sea of slumber. I was too far gone to recognize the gravity of his sleeping confession, nor could I respond. So I chalked it up to a hazy dream and snuggled closer into the warmth of Drew's broad chest.
"Laney, for the love of God! If we don't leave now we're going to be late!"
"Would you keep your panties on, Horowitz?" I screamed back at him. I still wasn't finished packing; And speaking of panties, I had to find enough underwear to last me at least a week and as far as I could tell I literally had none in the clean laundry I had finished this morning.
"What is taking so long?" he demanded as he stormed into my bedroom. Then he saw the open suitcases on my bed and the whirlwind of laundry covering every conceivable surface. "You haven't finished packing yet?"
"You are not helping!" I yelled. God, where the hell was my underwear?
He sighed, but helped me sift through my laundry. "What are you looking for now?"
"I need underwear! I can't find any of it and I washed all of my dirty laundry this morning, so I have no idea where it would be!"
Drew dropped my clothes and stared at me. "You're looking for underwear?"
"Yes, I'm looking for underwear!" I screamed. "I need underwear, Drew! I can't re-wear underwear! I need at least enough to last me a week, but I can't find even bra!"
"Just go commando," he said with a grin. "No one will notice, unless you plan on taking your pants off in public."
"I'm not going commando for all of Christmas break!"
"Laney, this is ridiculous. We have to meet Miri and Johnny at JFK in thirty minutes and you know what traffic is like during rush hour! We have to leave the apartment now!"
"I'm not leaving this apartment without my underwear, Drew. There's no way." Desperation finally drove me out of my room to search in the bathroom and living room. Even though I knew there was no possible chance that my panties were under the couch or in the cabinets, I still checked every conceivable nook and cranny I could think of.
"It's not like an underwear thief just came in the night to take away all my panties!" I screamed. "Where the hell are they?"
Drew just shrugged. But there was something fishy in his too-innocent expression that I didn't trust for a single second.
"You know something."
He scoffed. A little too soon. Almost like he was expecting this. "I don't know what you're talking about. We're late, Laney, let's go."
But before he could try and stop me, I had stormed into his room and started throwing open his drawers. Sure enough, my favorite pink and white polka dot bra and panty set was folded neatly and laying in the corner of his sock drawer.
"You stole my underwear?" I shrieked.
"Hey, I didn't steal it!" he yelled defensively. "You leave it here! It's your fault you don't come back for it!"
As I continued to dig in his drawer, I found all the underwear I had worn for the past week hidden underneath his socks, and they all carried with them the spring fresh scent of laundry detergent.
"So you wash my underwear, and instead of giving them back, you hoard them in your sock drawer? What kind of sick person does that?"
"Hey, I wash your underwear for you! Most girlfriends would think it's sweet!"
"Yeah, but most boyfriends would return it afterwards!"
"Look, it's not my fault you can't forget where you left your underwear. You're the one that keeps leaving it here."
With a huff, I grabbed my underwear out of his drawer and stomped back to my room with my bras and panties hanging out of my arms. Drew followed me across the living room and through the door to my bedroom, scolding me all the while for not keeping track of my things and also reminding me of how late we were in meeting Miri and Johnny at the airport.
"And besides," he added at the end of his diatribe, "if we just had one bedroom, this wouldn't have happened. You'd be able to keep track of your underwear much more easily."
I paused in my packing and whipped my head around to stare at him over my shoulder. "What?"
He shrugged, but I could tell he was masking his discomfort with a thin layer of nonchalance. "I'm just saying. If we slept together in one room, you wouldn't lose track of your underwear. You'd know it was in one room instead of storming off and making a mess of my sock drawer."
I zipped the rest of my luggage and straightened so I could stare at him properly. "What are you saying? That you want to move in together?"
He rolled his eyes. "We already live together, Laney."
I shook my head. "You know what I mean. Are you saying you want to sleep in the same bedroom?"
"No," he said emphatically. "I'm not saying I want to. I'm just saying it makes more sense."
Translation: he wanted to.
This was unprecedented. Drew's string of one-night stands was proof that he was a serial commitment phobe, and here he was suggesting that we sleep in one bedroom. This wasn't a baby step. This was a huge, gigantic, Titanic-shaped step, one that he had never taken. One that I had never taken.
I didn't know what to think or what to say. All I could do was stare at him.
Finally, the first few bars of "Jesu Bleibet Meine Freude" started chiming from Drew's phone. We jumped in surprise at the sudden interruption. After a few seconds, he fished his phone out of his pocket and answered.
I could hear Miri's voice through the speaker of his phone and she was pissed.
"Drew! Where the hell are you and Laney? We're taking off in half an hour and it'll take you forever to get through security!"
"I know, I know!" Drew shouted over her panicked shrieks. "Calm down, we're in the cab right now, we'll be there any minute!" And just as he was lying, he gestured wildly at me to grab my bags and get moving. So I finished zipping up my suitcases as he dragged me out of my room.
In the race to get to JFK before our flight left, Drew seemed to have forgotten about him suggesting we sleep in the same bedroom. But honestly, I hadn't. His offer sat there in the back of my mind, reminding me of its presence every time I glanced over at him.
Was it a good idea? I didn't know. Him asking me if I wanted to share a bedroom with him was the equivalent of a boyfriend asking his girlfriend to move in with him in any other normal relationship. This was a big deal. This was a big step.
Were we ready? I had no freaking idea.
I forgot about the issue temporarily when we got to the airport. Tyrone and Tobias were there with Miri and Johnny, the former of whom was looking impatient and anxious for our arrival.
"There you are!" she shouted over the crowded airport din. "What the hell took you so long?"
"Sorry!" I responded.
"Laney lost her underwear," Drew explained.
I elbowed him hard in the gut and he doubled over as the breath knocked out of his lungs. Johnny chuckled, and with the help of our Secret Service escort, the gentlemen took care of the baggage and we all ran to the security checkpoint. After Tyrone and Tobias flashed their ID to the TSA personnel, we rushed through the metal detectors and X-ray machines so we could make it to our hangar.
An hour later, we were settled comfortably in the plush, luxurious interior of Air Force One. I had flown on this snazzy plane many times before, but it never failed to awe and impress every time I got to fly on it again.
I took my usual seat by a window on the left side of the plane. Miri sat in the seat that faced mine while Johnny had to sit in the front right beside the cockpit so Tyrone and Tobias could update his appearance schedule for the holiday. Drew normally sat by my side, but for some reason, he took a seat the aisle on the other side of the plane. I frowned at him, but he studiously ignored my gaze, which made me think he hadn't forgotten about his suggestion after all.
We took off twenty minutes later. By that time, Drew had already settled into his seat and his good headphones were on, which meant two things: one, he didn't want to talk and two, he didn't want anyone to even attempt any sort of conversation with him.
Miri noticed Drew's odd behavior as well and turned to me with an inquisitive expression. "What's eating him?" She didn't worry that he'd be able to hear us because his headphones drowned out all outside noise. We could have called him a self-centered musical hack in his presence and he wouldn't know any better.
I sighed. "He suggested that we should share a bedroom, now that we're together."
Miri's jaw dropped and she stared at me. "No way. Are you for real?"
"Yeah. I couldn't find my underwear to pack before we left the apartment and I found out he kept my underwear from whenever we had sex in his room. When I accused him of being creepy and weird, he told me it would be easier keeping track of my stuff if we just shared the same bedroom."
My best friend rolled her eyes and shook her head. "Typical. What did you say when he suggested it, then?"
"I didn't say anything! I didn't even know what to say!"
"What do you mean you didn't know what to say? You say yes! When your boyfriend asks you to move in with him, you say yes!"
And suddenly, I couldn't hold in all these thoughts anymore. I mean, I'd only been holding them in for an hour, at most, but Miri's incredulous expression triggered my avalanche of doubt and insecurity. "But what if we're not ready?" I demanded. "This is a big step! This is a huge step and he just flung it there, like a fast ball to the boob!"
Miri stared at me. "What does that even mean?"
I waved away her question. "Doesn't matter. The point is, this relationship is all backwards. We started with sex. We were already living together before we became official. So in the context of our screwed up relationship, this is essentially moving in together. Is this going too fast?"
"Laney, this is six years in the making. Most people in your position would have started legit dating a long time ago. Your relationship has been going at a snail's pace since it's beginning and now that the two of you have finally stopped being stupid, you're just catching up to where you should have been at least two years ago."
I blew out a huff of breath. "So you don't think this is going too fast?"
"What do you think?" she challenged. "Do you want to share a bedroom or not?"
For the first time since he suggested it, I thought about it. I mean, I really thought about it. Drew was right. It was more pragmatic for us to share a room. I'd be able to keep better track of my underwear, for one. Second of all, it wasn't like we didn't already share a bedroom. In fact, it was kind of a hassle, going back and forth from our bedrooms every night.
Third of all, I liked the idea of sharing a bedroom. An image of us lying on our bed sprang to mind: I was reading a book and Drew was surfing CNN on his laptop. We didn't have to talk or have sex just to hang out together. We could just enjoy each other's presence.
We could do it. We should do it. And what was more, Drew was the one who offered this next step. Andrew Timothy "Cut-'n-run" Horowitz wanted to share a bedroom. It showed a remarkable amount of growth and maturity, something I hadn't seen in him for a long time. Possibly ever.
"Okay," I sighed. "I want to. I want to share a room with him."
"So there's your answer. Stop obsessing about whether or not this is too soon. And besides, it's not like your room is going to disappear when you move into his or however you decide to cohabitate. If you guys try it and still think it's too soon, you can switch back. No big deal."
Miri was right, as usual. Drew and I could try sharing a room together. And this decision inspired my Christmas gift for him, something I had been agonizing and obsessing over for weeks.
"What are you thinking?" Miri asked as she curiously studied my expression.
I shrugged. "Just that I know what to get Drew now instead of what I was originally planning on giving him."
"And what's that?"
She wrinkled her nose, but giggled. "Yeah, I get it. I gave those to Johnny for our anniversary last year. He thoroughly enjoyed them."
At the mention of his name, the first son glanced up and stared at us. "What are you guys saying?"
Miri and I exchanged glances and burst into a fresh fit of giggles. The harder Johnny frowned, the harder we laughed until words were entirely impossible. And when the laughter finally subsided, Miri stood to walk to her fiance's side. Then, heedless of Tyrone and Tobias' presence, she settled herself across his lap and kissed him.
"I love you," she grinned.
His arms tightened around her and held her close. "I love you, too," he murmured.
I smiled the joyful and loving exchange and for once, I didn't feel any jealousy or regret. Because in the back of my mind and in the corner of my heart, I had something I hadn't felt in a long time: hope.
Drew dropped further discussion of our sharing a bedroom (probably out of embarrassment) and I followed his lead, since it was going to be the cornerstone of my Christmas gift to him. So everything was relatively normal between us. We came home to our doting families (Drew with less patience than I) and continued to ignore pointed hints at eventual marriage. When Colleen got wind that we were actually dating this time, it was all she could do not to join in on the marriage talk. And every single night, after we were both sure our parents were asleep, I snuck out of my house and drove to Drew's under the cover of the night so I could sneak into his bedroom via climbing Earl.
"I feel like I'm in high school again," I giggled breathlessly as Drew helped me through his window.
"Yeah, well I'm pretty sure we never did this in high school." He took me by the waist and pressed my body against his and kissed me with such ferocity, it took me by surprise.
When we came up for air, I grinned at him. "What's gotten into you?" I asked as I slipped my sweater off.
"Nothing. I missed you."
He kissed me again, and I reached underneath his shirt so my fingers could trace the lines of his chest. As always, electricity sparked between the two of us when our bare skin touched.
"Liar," I whispered. "What's wrong?"
His hold around me tightened. Then he pulled away and sighed. "I just miss our apartment. That's all."
I chuckled. "Your mother getting to you?"
He nodded. "Among other things."
I knew what he meant. I mean, I loved having sex with Drew — clearly, since I was willing to drive across town at one o'clock in the morning to sneak in through his bedroom window. But it was a lot less hassle than just crossing the hall, had we been at our own apartment.
And soon enough, we wouldn't have to cross the hall anymore.
But I didn't let him know that. Instead, I just let him unsnap my bra and lead me to his bed.
Two weeks later, Christmas descended upon us with the wrath of a castrated Santa and his possessed elves. Since our families were so close and Drew and I were finally, officially dating, the Horowitzes and the Porter-Engles came over for a big Christmas dinner at my house with my mom and step dad. By the time Miri and her mom and step dad rang the doorbell, I had already braced myself for an incredibly long and stressful evening.
"Merry Christmas!" Miri chirped as she held out her offering to the feast: her famous sugar cookies, cut and iced to resemble Christmas trees.
"Hey," I grinned as I stepped forward to give her a hug. "Come in, come in. It's gotta be, like, negative sixty degrees out here."
Miri stepped across the threshold, followed by her mother and her stepfather. They stopped short right in front of the door, and their jaws dropped past their collarbones. "Holy crap," Miri whispered.
"Yeah…" I sighed.
Mom had gone a little overboard with the decorations this year. The tree stood in the corner of the living room, grazing the twenty-foot ceiling. It was covered in synthetic, glittery snow, just like the floor beneath it. We held off on opening presents so that the boxes remained wrapped and nestled safely beneath the branches of the tree. And the fake snow wasn't isolated to the corner with the tree; that shit was everywhere. It sat in piles on the sofas, on the coffee table, on the ottoman and scattered all over the carpet. There was even a fake snowman in the corner opposite of the tree. Strings of holly wrapped in Christmas lights draped the walls, and the dangled sprigs of mistletoe from the ceiling at strategic locations. And of course, the life-sized nativity scene was nestled underneath the staircase, with real, lit candles surrounding the quaint little scene.
"This is incredible," Colleen gushed. My mom came out of the kitchen just at that moment and rushed at her good friends to give them a hug.
"Colleen! Carter! It's so wonderful to see you!" she cried excitedly. "Come in, come in! Let me take your coats!"
My mom ushered the adults toward the living room, leaving Miri and me alone in the foyer.
"Seriously, your mom went crazy this year," Miri smiled. "But this is awesome."
I rolled my eyes. "Yeah, but you're not the one who has to clean all this shit afterward. Anyway, how are you? How come Johnny's not here?"
"His parents wanted him to spend Christmas with the family at the White House this year. Besides, I went to the annual Christmas party last night anyway."
"How'd that go, by the way?"
"I met Ryan Gosling and almost started drooling. That made Johnny possessive, which was cute. Alana got to stay until nine o'clock this year, which she was very excited about. Aaaand…that's about it."
"No one asked about wedding plans?"
"Oh, they did. But we avoided the questions."
About fifteen minutes later, my legs kept jumping up and down in an agitated manner. Drew and his family were late, as usual, but I really needed him to get here, like, now. I had been nervous ever since I woke up this morning and every single minute he was late only made it worse.
Miri noticed my growing anxiety and shot a raised eyebrow at me. "What's with you?"
"Nothing," I shrugged. But my legs still wouldn't stop jumping.
A half hour after the party was supposed to start, Drew and his family finally showed up. All three of them were sporting huge foil trays of food as an offering.
"Sorry we're so late!" Mrs. Horowitz gushed. "I was just trying to finish the baked macaroni casserole."
"It's okay," Brian laughed. "Come in, come in! Here, let me take those trays. Laney, you take their coats."
I stepped forward to receive their jackets while Brian and my mom took the trays to the living room. Mrs. Horowitz followed as she offered instructions of how to keep the food warm. Mr. Horowitz smiled warmly at me before trudging into the living room where the beer cooler was. It left Drew and me in the foyer. Alone.
"Hey," I grinned. "How are you?"
He shrugged noncommittally. "Fine."
I stepped forward to give him a peck on the cheek. "Merry Christmas."
"Yeah. You too."
I frowned. He was acting awfully squirrely and unexcited for his favorite holiday. "You okay?"
"I told you, I'm fine. I'm just kinda tired, 'cuz mom's been bossing us around all morning."
Okay. I could tell that something was wrong because he wasn't looking me in the eye and his hands were stuffed in his pockets. It was usually a sign he was hiding something.
"Right…" I trailed off as I eyed him suspiciously. That wasn't his my-mother's-been-bugging-me-and-now-I'm-tired face. That was his something-happened-and-I-don't-want-to-talk-about-it-or-think-about-it face. But I knew from experience that it wouldn't be a good idea to push the issue. So instead I decided to something I was sure would cheer him up.
"So I have your present for you. It's upstairs." I wiggled my eyebrows in a suggestive way, hoping to get him to laugh. But he didn't. Not even a chuckle.
"Okay." He shrugged again. And he didn't offer another word. He just let me lead the way as I climbed the stairs up to my room.
When we got to my room, I closed the door behind me and pushed him to sit on the bed. Then, I ducked underneath my bed and pulled out the large present as gingerly as possible.
"Here!" I said cheerfully as I set the present in his lap. "Merry Christmas!"
A ghost of a grin passed across his face. "Thanks," he said as he started to rip into the paper.
When all of it had fallen away, he looked up at me in confusion. "What is this?"
I smiled and pointed to it. "It's a drawer filled with my underwear. You know, since you're such a freak and you don't like to give it back, I thought I'd give you a whole drawer full to keep in your room."
"Oh." He looked like a cross between confused and a little disappointed. "Thank you."
I laughed at his expression and scooted closer on the bed to him. "Look, I know I didn't handle very gracefully at first, but this is me making a step. I want to share a bedroom with you. I want to share a bed every night. I want all of our stuff in the same room so I don't lose it. And I want you there to keep me warm underneath the comforter."
I watched as realization slowly dawned over his face. He looked up to stare at me with wide eyes. They looked almost terrified, framed against his pale white skin.
"And I thought we could start with this drawer of underwear," I continued, a little uncertainly now. "You know, baby steps."
"Right," he nodded over and over again. "Right."
Finally, I couldn't take his indifference anymore. I had agonized for weeks how to break this to him. Hell, I had agonized for a really long time if I had even wanted to give this to him in the first place. I still didn't know if this was a good idea and he didn't even have the decency to be just a little excited? He was the one who asked for this! He was the one who brought it up!
"Look, if you don't want it, you just have to tell me," I said testily. "I'll just try and figure out something else to get you."
I made to grab the drawer and tried to yank it out of his hands, but he held on tight. "I didn't say I didn't want it for a reason, Laney. Remember what they say when you assume."
I crossed my arms over my chest and glared at him. I held tightly to my anger, because it was the only thing that was keeping me from bursting into tears. "Then what is it? I thought you'd be happier about this. You were the one who suggested it! You were the one who wanted to move in and I'm trying to tell you that I'm ready and you're backing out all of a sudden!"
"I didn't say that," he repeated. Then he set the drawer aside and reached forward to hold my face with both his hands. "Laney, I didn't say that I was backing out. I want to share a bedroom. I do. I want all those things you mentioned and more. And I really appreciate this gift."
"Then why are you acting like this?" I wailed. Against my better judgment, tears started to trail down my cheeks and Drew wiped them away with his thumbs.
"I'm sorry," he whispered. "I've just been having a bad morning and I'm taking it out on you. You didn't do anything. You didn't. I love this gift. I love it."
I sniffed pathetically. "You do?"
He nodded and leaned forward to kiss me softly. "I do."
I threw my arms around his shoulders and let out a breath I didn't know I'd been holding. "Good. I'm really glad."