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  • Bam Shepherd

Quarantine Crush ~ Chapter 1

Updated: May 27

The shot glass wobbles in my hand as I lift it to my lips. Hadley grins at me, her white-toothed smile practically glowing in the black light illuminating her living room. It’s girls’ night. Except, Nina and Taylor bailed. I’m starting to think Hadley planned it this way, however with the alcohol kicking in, I can’t remember why that should worry me. In the background, some old school Britney song is playing. Hadley always chooses the throwbacks when she’s in charge of the music.

“Come on, bitch. Take it all,” Hadley coaxes when I hesitate too long with the shot.

I snort then tip the shot back and swallow, scrunching my face against the burn of the salted caramel whiskey sliding down my throat.

“Okay, no more dares,” I say, the buzz of the last two shots finally beginning to tingle beneath my skin.

Her lips curve. “So you choose truth this time?” Hadley asks, and I realize too late that this is what she wanted all along.

“Ugh. Fine.”

“Is it true you have a secret crush on your bestie?” she asks.

I flip my long, blonde hair over my shoulder and huff. Hadley’s been trying to make me admit my feelings for Knox out loud ever since she “accidentally” found out I carry a torch for him. Only now, he’s coming to visit for the first time in years, which means she’s stepped up her game.

“Hadley, are you trying to get me to fall for you?” I bat my lashes, and she smirks, eyes narrowed.

“Very funny, Em. I only swing one way except for that one time freshman year. Besides, I’m secure enough to admit I’m not your only bestie. A lesser woman might succumb to jealousy, except out of the two of us, I have better tits, so I’ll let it slide.” She winks. “And don’t dodge the question. You know I mean that delicious man-candy, Knox Jacobs.”

I roll my eyes. Hadley and I became friends during our freshman year at NYU. She’s never actually met Knox in person since she and I met after Knox had moved to London for college, but she’s seen pictures and screamed innuendos at him in the background of my calls. And she never passes up a chance to point out how hot my childhood friend is now that he’s all grown up.

“You should have seen him with acne,” I joke. Still, Hadley will not be deterred.

“Look, all joking aside, I think you should finally go for it, Em. This is your chance, and who knows when you’ll see him again. It’s not like he visits often.”

“He’s just finishing laying the groundwork for Hess-Jacobs Enterprise’s first international store. Chip Off The Old Block has done better than the dads could have ever imagined in London,” I argue, and I can’t help the swell of pride I feel for the furniture company my dad built from scratch alongside Knox’s dad. From best friends to business partners, they’ve taught me it’s possible to be successful doing what you love. “He’ll be home for good this summer.”

“Yeah, okay. Whatever you have to tell yourself to sleep at night.”

I punch her in the shoulder.

“That hurt,” she says, rubbing the spot I hit.

I glare ominously. “Next one’s in your tit.”

“Worth it.”

I lift a brow. “Seriously?”

“Hell yeah. If it means you finally put yourself out there–go after your happiness. I’ll take a tit punch for that.”

I sigh. Hadley’s being way too serious now, and the nausea in my belly tells me that my own brain is actually considering her idea.

I toy with the empty shot glass where it’s balanced on the coffee table. In the background, I listen as Britney steps aside for Kesha.

“What would I even say?”

Hadley’s icy blue eyes twinkle as she grins, the bitch. She knows she’s finally worn me down. “You don’t even have to use words. I have a plan. Check this out.”

She grabs her phone and, in milliseconds, has a video playing. I glare at her because it’s clear she’s had this clip queued up all night, ready and waiting for the moment she’d plied me with enough alcohol to get me to agree to her nagging.

“You’re a manipulative–”

“Just watch it,” she insists, hitting play and handing me the phone. Then she pauses the music so I can hear everything.

I watch in silence, my stomach in knots, because I know immediately what this is. The “shoot your shot” challenge has been viral on the video-sharing app, FlipFlop, for weeks now. Girls with secret crushes on their male best friends record a surprise kiss, and the reactions range from adorable to cringey.

One guy even pushes a pillow into his female bestie’s face when she goes for it. The sadness and humiliation in her eyes as she ends the video is enough to make me want to cry for her.

Most are well-received though, and by the time I’m done watching whatever compilation video Hadley dug up, I’m feeling slightly more optimistic. Though, I’m not entirely convinced that I won’t vomit at the idea of trying it for myself.

“Well?” Hadley prompts when I don’t say anything. She tilts her head, her platinum locks barely brushing her shoulder as she stares me down. “Easy, right? No big speeches or anything.”

“Oh, yeah,” I snort. “Piece of cake, Had.”

I start to get up, intent on brushing off the entire thing. Hadley grabs me, pushing to her feet too. With an iron grip on my wrist, my gal-pal, and closest friend besides Knox, stares me dead in the eye with a look that would turn lesser beings to stone.

“Embry Hess, you are going to go home and put on your sexiest casual wear, and when Knox Jacobs arrives, you are going to shoot your shot like the confident, deserving goddess you are. Do you hear me?”

I blink.

“Calm down, Had.”

“You’ve been a mess for weeks, Em. Since the moment Knox announced he was coming home, you’ve been distracted. Even before that. Hell, for as long as we’ve been friends. It’s like you two have been in a long-distance relationship this whole time, except you don’t get any of the perks like sexting or the occasional three a.m. dick pic.”

I snort. “Seriously? You’re the only person I know who would consider a three a.m. dick pic a good thing, Hads.”

Hadley shrugs before continuing her rant. “My point is you two act like a couple. You’re constantly sending each other care packages. You Facetime every Saturday and spend hours telling each other about your week. Hell, you guys even share your streaming services.”

“You’re just mad because I won’t give you my login for Disney plus.”

“Friends don’t keep friends from bingeing the JoBros,” Hadley quips before leveling me with a glare. “Now stop trying to distract me with your betrayal. I’ve watched you try to get up the courage to tell him how you feel more than once over the years, merely to chicken out and then mope around when he leaves again. It’s time, girl. You deserve to know once and for all. But most of all, you deserve to be happy.”

I bite my lip against the emotions that threaten to drown me as my deepest secret rears its ugly head. The truth I’ve kept hidden from everyone–even Hadley. I worked up the nerve to shoot my shot with Knox once, and the sting of that failure still haunts me. I don’t think I can handle putting myself out there again and facing rejection. Not from him. But when I look down at the empty shot glass in my free hand, my eyes zero in on the phrase printed in black, blocky letters. You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.

My alcohol-blurred mind takes one look at it and knows it must be a sign from the universe.

I look up at Hadley again, heart racing now.

Maybe it’s the liquid courage she’s plied me with, still, I find myself nodding. Somewhere in the back of my mind, Roar, by Katy Perry is echoing, beating back the uncertainty and nauseating fear of everything that could go wrong with this idea.

“You’re right,” I hear myself saying. Like some braver, crazier version of myself has taken over my mouth. “I’m going to do it. I’m going to lay all my cards on the table this time.”

“Hell yeah, you are.” Hadley squeezes my hand, and the fearlessness in her blue eyes is like a superpower seeping into my skin.

I lift my chin. Square my shoulders. And shove away the paralyzing fear that’s held me back for so long.

“I’m going to do it. I’m going to shoot my shot with Knox Jacobs.”

***

“Help me,” I whine into my laptop.

Laughter floats back at me through the grainy connection of our Skype call, and I glare at my three best girlfriends.

“Do you want me to back out?” I threaten. “Because I will, and then you whores will have to go elsewhere for your entertainment.”

My words sober the group.

“I still think you should wear that black dress,” Nina says, pointing to the dress I’ve already discarded on my bed.

“No way,” I say, shaking my head. “I’d never wear that to just sit around my house. It looks like lingerie. It’s meant for the club where you’re wanting a man to think about dragging you off to bed.”

“Are we not sleeping with him?” Nina asks, confused. “I thought we were going for the shock and awe effect.”

We’re not sleeping with anyone,” I growl. “And no. He’s been my best friend since I was ten. I don’t want him to think I’m some hussy.”

“Sharing is caring,” Nina sings from whatever high-class bathroom she’s hiding in. My 911 text had interrupted her date with a sexy mystery man, but she came through like a champ and snuck away to the bathroom when she realized I was panicking.

Nina is a straight-up hottie with her sleek, sexy black hair cut into a bouncy lob and flawless skin that she can thank her Asian heritage for. Lucky bitch. I open my mouth to let her know that this is one area where I do not share, but Taylor cuts me off.

“Try on those jeans that make your butt look great with that slouchy sweater and your cute, lace bralette.” Her long, brunette waves bounce as she talks, blurring out the background that I know is nothing but plants.

I strip off my tank top and unhook my strapless bra before snatching the blue bralette from the quickly growing pile of clothes on my bed.

“What if I get cold or, God forbid, aroused?” I ask, pulling the soft sweater over my head.

“Then he should just thank you for the free show,” Hadley says with a shrug.

Somewhere in the background, Taylor’s English bulldog barks, but Hadley ignores him. The fact that she doesn’t ask Taylor to put him on camera for her to fawn over is proof she’s super-set on this happening.

I roll my eyes as I finish pulling up my favorite jeans and button them.

“Well, what do we think?” I ask.

“I don’t know,” Taylor says, tilting her head to the side. “Maybe it’s too casual?”

“Definitely,” Nina agrees. “You look cute as a button, but we need something that will give you a boost.”

“Ooo! I’ve got it,” Hadley cries. “The super comfy black pencil skirt we found at that thrift shop. Remember? The one with the slit up one leg?”

I nod my head as I turn back to my closet and search through my skirts.

“Found it,” I cry, pulling the skirt from its place in my bottom drawer. A second later, I’ve stripped out of the jeans and tossed them aside. “Ooo, I forgot how soft this thing was,” I say, shimmying it up my hips.

“Now, switch out your top for that stupid band t-shirt he gave you when you were fifteen,” Hadley says, her voice full of authority.

“Seriously?” I quirk my brow at her and cross my arms over my chest. “It’s a crop top now and has holes in it.”

“It’s sexily distressed,” she quips. “Now hush, and put it on. It’s my turn to play dress up.”

I flip her off before turning back to my closet. I know exactly where the shirt is. I pull the tee from its hanger, unable to stop the smile that spreads across my face at the sight of my worn 3oh3 shirt. The words My First Kiss Went A Little Like This are emblazoned across the front along with a bright red kiss print. It’s faded over the years, and there are a few holes where I’ve worn it thin, still, I’ll never get rid of it. Too many memories.

I swap out my bralette for my favorite pushup and pull the tee over my head before exiting the closet. I stop in front of my laptop and do a little spin for my girls.

Catcalls sound through the speakers, and I grin. Looks like we have a winner. I plop down in front of my vanity and get to work applying some light makeup.

A knock on my front door startles me as I’m finishing swiping the mascara on my lashes, and I say a quick thanks to the makeup gods that I didn’t stab myself in the eye with the wand or smear it across my face. Fate is on my side tonight. I cast a quick glance at the clock next to my bed, a miniature replica of Big Ben that Knox sent me last Christmas, and curse when I realize how late it is.

“Shit,” I mutter. “How the hell did he get into the building without me buzzing him in?”

“Wait, he’s there?” Nina asks. The fact that she’s stayed on the call this long makes me wonder if her date is even still out there, but Nina doesn’t seem worried at all.

“Already?” Taylor chimes in, and I can picture her checking her watch. She’s all about schedules.

“Showtime,” Hadley sings.

Panic grips me, and I dart up from my seat, rattling the products sitting on my vanity. I cross to my bed, grabbing the pile of discarded clothes, and toss them on top of my dresser. I’ll deal with the mess later.

My eyes are wild as I turn back to my friends.

“I can’t do this,” I whisper yell at them as I stuff my makeup back in the correct drawers.

“Calm your tits,” Hadley says. “Go get your purse. I left you something in there.”

Another knock sounds from the front door, this time a little louder.

“Coming!” I call loudly as I jump up.

“Not yet, but hopefully you will be soon.” Nina’s naughty words are met with another round of snorting laughter from my friends, and I flip them the bird before crossing to the chair in the corner of my room. I riffle through my bag as I pad back across the room, pulling Hadley’s “surprise” from my purse.

A tiny bottle of 151 is nestled inside the shot glass from last night. I don’t even think twice. I uncap the rum, pour it into the glass, and throw it back before I can second-guess myself.

With one last ruffle of my long, blonde waves, I blow my friends a kiss and shut my laptop, silencing their shouts of encouragement.

I rush from my room, chewing the inside of my lip nervously as my eyes dart over my tidy apartment one last time, allowing them to linger on my favorite piece of decor–the telephone box bookcase that Knox bought me as a housewarming gift–before pulling open the front door.

Heat rushes through my body as I take in the sight of Knox leaning casually against the hallway wall outside my door. He’s wearing faded jeans and a long-sleeved tee pushed up to his elbows with his alma mater’s logo printed across the front. It’s a change from the suit and tie I normally see him wearing during our video calls. More casual. And somehow sexier.

His warm, honey-colored eyes take me in while a smile pulls at one side of his lips as he reads the words written across my chest. My nipples harden against his attention, and I thank God for the invention of padded bras.

“Hey, Knox.” The words come out breathy, and I clear my throat before shooting him a grin.

“I’m sorry, do I know you?” The words are low and playful. He looks past my shoulder as though I’m hiding someone behind me. “I was looking for my childhood friend, Emy. Always in pj’s. Messy hair. Always with her nose stuck in a book. Sound familiar?”

“Ha-ha,” I say, rolling my eyes. “I’m not always in my pj’s, you jerk.”

“Could have fooled me. After our million Facetimes, I was starting to wonder if you owned real clothes.” His eyes do a second sweep, and damn if my body doesn’t respond, tingling and tightening in excitement.

He’s here.

He’s really, truly here. After all this time.

“Stop moving halfway across the world, and you’d see what I look like during the daytime hours more often.”

The words are barely out of my mouth before I feel Knox’s strong arms wrap around me. My breath whooshes out of me as I’m lifted off my feet. Knox presses his face to my neck, holding me against his chest as he crushes me in a hug. The hard planes of his body feel like they’re made for the softer curves of my own, and my heart pounds painfully against my ribs. I say a quick prayer that this FlipFlop won’t...well, flop, then I wind my arms around his neck and breathe in the smoky sandalwood scent that smells like home.


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