The glorious California sun is finally setting on me after the longest day of my life, and I feel incredibly lucky that I can now manage to stay fed for another week.
Life as a bum is treating me well enough, I guess. Today was my first day going busking. I’d finished all the leftover money I had on food and spare guitar strings and then found myself with no other choice but to sit at the Hollywood and Vine train stop with my guitar, hoping to God I’d make some decent money.
I don’t even want to think about what Mom and Dad must be saying about me. They’re probably swearing to all their friends that I’ve been possessed by the devil, that they have no idea why I would do such a terrible thing, running away from home. God forbid they got a clue that I was trying to get away from them.
Homeless or not, I’m glad to be rid of them. And I don’t care how awful that sounds.
My butt against the hard concrete, I smile wanly as I pat the wad of cash tucked in the front pocket of my jeans. I haven’t been playing for about twenty minutes because my fingers were really starting to hurt, and also I wanted to count all the money I made. Fifty six dollars and seventy five cents, to be exact—it’s enough to last me for a while. As I sit cross-legged near the station’s escalator, a rather short man catches my eye. He winks suggestively at me and saunters over.
“Well, let’s hear it,” he tells me, lips twisting wryly.
I hold back a frown as I grab my guitar from the case and place it in my lap. With an anxious glance up at the man, I begin to play. I’ve always liked this piece; it’s almost my favorite one. Cavatina. It’s fairly long and slow and romantic, and I used to save it for starry nights back home in San Francisco, which in fact weren’t actually starry nights at all, of course, due to all of the light pollution. So I had to picture them as I lay underneath the night sky, alone on my front yard. I’d have my guitar by my side, and eventually I’d pick it up and play it, longing for someone, anyone who’d have me, to curl up beside me and appreciate the starless sky as much as I did.
As I play the song, the steel strings feel like they are slicing my raw fingertips open. Nevertheless, I manage to get through it without any major mistakes—but I can feel my heart pumping wildly in my ears. I relax marginally when I look up and see the small crowd of people forming around me; there’s no better feeling than seeing their pleased faces.
When the song finally comes to a close, I end it with a flourish and the surrounding crowd gives me polite applause. I can’t fight the grin plastered all over my face. “Thank you,” I say.
As they continue on their way, several of them toss cash into my guitar case. When they’ve all cleared out, I pull it towards me, eager to count the rest of the money. A crisp hundred dollar bill floats into the case as I am leaning for it. I gasp and look up.
A tall man with golden hair is looking down at me, his soulful blue eyes crinkling as he smiles. He looks oddly familiar, much to my surprise. I can’t will my lips to speak.
“That was beautiful,” he says to me.
He chuckles as if he’s laughing at some inside joke and then shakes his head, smiling even wider. “Really, really beautiful.”
“Um,” I say. “You know I can’t take that, right?”
He frowns immediately. “Why not?”
“It’s a hundred dollars.” I run my teeth over my bottom lip, instantly uneasy. “I wasn’t that good.”
The golden-haired man laughs amiably, throwing his head back and closing his eyes. I find myself smiling at the sight of it—it’s my favorite kind of laugh. When he catches the grin on my face, he beams, revealing a perfect set of gleaming white teeth. I swear I recognize that smile.
“I thought you were amazing,” he says then, shoving his hands in the pockets of his worn out jeans. I tense up when I notice the modest amount of soft, curly chest hair revealed by the buttons left undone at the top of his white linen shirt. He catches me staring and drops down to my eye level, and I can feel my heart race.
His face up close is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. His pale sapphire eyes remind me of a pleasant daytime sky, making me ache, making me feel. His pink lips are curved into a mysterious smile as he gazes at me curiously. I want to reach out and trace the sharp line of his jaw, press my lips against the slightly crooked length of his nose, which definitely looked like it’d been broken before. I can’t resist licking my lips as I imagine what it’d be like to be touched by him, kissed by him.
He definitely notices. I watch as his kind expression turns a touch too fervent, making my heart hammer in my chest. His soft blue eyes darken carnally and his lips part. A rosy flush spreads across the fair skin of his cheeks.
I can feel a delightful tightening at the pit of my stomach.
And then, entirely too late, I remember who he is.
“Jesus Christ, you’re Gabriel Avery,” I say very quietly.
Gabriel fucking Avery. The actor. The Gabriel Avery. Whose movies I’ve never seen, not a one, but considered ridiculously hot anyway. I hope to God I’m wrong, that this guy just looks a hell of a lot like him, but there’s no mistaking the smile he’d flashed me. And God, the way he dresses. His mussed-up hair that I just want to take a nap in. I can swear I’ve seen it all before.
My excitement dies a bit, however, when he looks slightly disappointed at my reaction. I bite my lip and look away, embarrassed.
“It’s sort of refreshing meeting someone who doesn’t recognize me. Well, not until eventually,” he says then, his voice teasing now, and I manage to relax a bit. I know they must hate it when people fawn all over them. But I’m not fan, not really; I figure it’s lucky that I’ve never seen him act, because if I had, I’d be creaming myself right about now.
“I do recommend booking a show at the nightclub Devilish, they’d love to have you there,” Gabriel says, and his hands are in his pockets again and only then do I have a good look at his overwhelmingly hot forearms, revealed by his rolled-up sleeves. Up until now, I didn’t know watches could be sexy. But the one on his right wrist is making everything down south clench. Hard. He continues then, and I miraculously manage to comprehend what he’s saying.
“I figure a lovely young woman such as yourself would have better things to do than sit on concrete all day. And Devilish is constantly seeking out new talent.”
I flush furiously and gnaw at my lip, feeling a pang of humiliation. “And how do you know Devilish would have me?”
“Because I own it.” He flashes me a smug smile. “And I would love nothing more than to see you there.”
The cheeky smile on his face makes me want to do unspeakable things to him, and I feel awful, because I’m not even sure if I want to violate him because he’s really famous or for the right reason, because he’s just unbearably hot. But I’m no fangirl, and there is no denying his deliciousness.
“Um, I’ll consider it,” I choke out.
Gabriel grins. “I’m dying to know your name, Miss.”
“Lila Grace Flowers,” I tell him, feeling my cheeks grow hot again.
His pink lips pull into a deeply satisfied smile. “You’re biting that lip again.”
I flush. “I’m sorry. I-I tend to do that when I’m nervous.”
“Miss Flowers, you’re nervous?” He’s taunting me now, his velvet voice like a soft caress in the mention of my name. I’m blushing wildly, and I do hate to look like a blushing idiot, but I’ve never really been approached by a Gabriel Avery before, and if he did happen to think me a blushing idiot, he’d have to know it was all his goddamned fault. So.
Gabriel coaxes my eyes to meet his and then leans in a bit closer, his warm breath like soft kisses across my face. He’s got a tender smile in his eyes. “Lila Grace is a beautiful name,” he says.
I want to tell him it’s Just Lila, but something in his expression tells me I need to thank him for his compliment instead. I smile weakly in gratitude.
“Are you homeless?” he asks then, and my jaw drops. Unaffected by the offense I’ve taken, he continues, “I mean, I pass by this street every day and I always see you here.”
“So what if I am?” I huff, and become terribly afraid that my face gives away the ridiculous shame I am beginning to feel.
His electric blue eyes soften in sympathy as he inches towards me; he’s entirely too close now. My eyes are darting around in all directions, desperately trying to avoid his. “Miss Flowers, please understand I don’t mean to offend you.”
“I’m not offended,” I snap.
“I’m sorry, Lila Grace,” he says very quietly, taking my hand. Too, too close. Very carefully, he lifts my chin to meet his gaze, and I feel close to bursting.
I am so ashamed.
“Lila Grace, you can trust me,” he says, his silky voice dropping down to an earnest whisper. I look into the pools of sapphire in his eyes and feel my heartbeat quickening, realizing his very close proximity. Too, too, too close.
I jerk away from his touch and focus my eyes on the distant palm trees, swaying with the gentle summer breeze. I want to run far, far away. Until I meet the horizon.
I’d rather die than have him feel sorry for me.
“Miss Flowers, please,” he tells me. “Please, listen. I’d like you to pay very close attention to what I’m about to say to you, because it might seem a little strange, considering we’ve just met.”
There was no mistaking the desperation underlying in his words, his tone. For a split second, the humiliation becomes tolerable.
I sigh and say, “Yes, I’m listening.”
He exhales, relieved, and then takes my chin again to bore his eyes into mine. The heat of his touch sets my skin on fire.
“Since you are currently without a home,” he begins, brows furrowed in uncertainty, “I’d like to... Well, I’d like to provide you with one.”
“I want you to live with me, Lila Grace.”
He looks a little frustrated now, maybe even a little hurt. I instantly feel remorseful. “It’s just—well, like you said, we’ve just met. And I really don’t want to be... well, a bother.”
“You wouldn’t be,” he says immediately. “I offered. I want you to come live with me.”
“But that’s weird.”
“Lila Grace,” he says curtly, as if talking to a child. “I often get what I want. Because I seek it out. And I don’t want to have to spend my nights thinking about you after coming across you and letting you slip away. So I’m going to have to insist. You shouldn’t be homeless. You’re much too young. And... and...”
He sighs. “You deserve a home, Miss Flowers.”
“Thank you for the offer, Mr. Avery,” I tell him as politely as I can, “but no. I can’t.”
“Yes, yes, you can,” he insists, tugging at my hands now. And I do have to admit, his long fingers fit perfectly in mine. With their warmth, they squeeze my hands tight as they interlock with them, and it’s nothing I’ve ever felt before. The feeling of safety and security I get from holding his hands in mine feels too good to even fathom letting go. “Lila Grace, please move in with me,” he pleads. “I’ll get you clothes, food, a warm bed, a safe place to be.” He’s looking straight into my eyes now, and I can see the pure honesty, the intensity that lies in his. I find myself nodding in resignation.
“Alright, Mr. Avery.”
He sighs and shuts his eyes, relieved. “Thank you, Miss Flowers.”
* * *
Apparently Gabriel takes the train every day to get to the set for the new film he’s doing and his penthouse is only a block away from the Hollywood and Vine stop. He’s glaring at nearly every man who looks at him for too long. I suspect he doesn’t have the patience for ogling fans.
“You know, you would do well to be a little nicer to your admirers,” I tell him when we’re going up the elevator in his apartment building. He cuts a look at me.
“What are you talking about, Miss Flowers?”
“You shoot daggers with your eyes at every man who stares you down.”
He scoffs. “They’re not staring at me, Lila Grace, they’re staring at you.”
And he doesn’t say anything else after that, and so I’m left feeling very confused when he says he’ll be putting my guitar in my new closet. I look around at the vast living room, decorated brilliantly with its subdued class in its effortless coziness and simplicity. There are beautiful paintings on the wall, classic sculptures scattered about, bookshelves stuffed with British literature. God, how pretentious. And might I add, sexy.
The color of the walls are a soft maroon, and it’s also the color of the incredibly comfy-looking L-shaped couches, which contrast beautifully with the pastel green plush carpets. I notice there are no actual personal photographs anywhere in the living room—not even a family photo, or of a possible girlfriend, or even of just him.
I feel slightly queasy when I wonder if a random girl might just stumble out of one of the doors and demand to know where Gabriel is, and who the hell I am. Maybe he’s a got a girlfriend living here, or God knows what else. I almost jump in the air when he pops out of the other room, saying, “I don’t think you can sleep in there tonight, Lila Grace. I want to move everything out of there first.”
“Um, what’s in it?”
He pauses. “Just some stuff I never use anymore. You’ll be sleeping in my bed tonight.”
“Uh, Mr. Avery, I don’t think—”
“Lila Grace, my name is Gabriel,” he interrupts. “Don’t worry, I do not wish to deflower you on our first night of acquaintance.” He grins wickedly. “I’ll take the floor.”
I want to ask him why he doesn’t just choose one of the couches, since it’d probably be a whole lot more comfortable than the floor—but then I realize it’s most likely because he wants to sleep in the same room with me. Why else?
So I keep my mouth shut.
And then I panic, because he suspects I’m a virgin.
Which is something I really, fucking really really, do not want to talk about, so I keep my mouth shut about that, too.
He ushers me into his room, which is warm and nice and beautiful with even more paintings and posters of bands and films I adore. The walls are so covered with them that I can barely make out their color.
The hand on the small of my back as he shows me around is driving me insane. I’m burning for him, and the whole thing of him inviting me to stay to live with him—it just completely hits me, and I find myself panicking entirely. What if I say the wrong thing? What if he realizes I want him so badly? What if he eventually comes to his senses and kicks me out?
I know he’s going to realize I’m not worth the trouble, but I’m too afraid to tell him before he figures it out himself.
“I keep some spare toothbrushes in the bathroom,” he says softly from behind me. I’ve been gazing at his Clash poster for quite some time now, and when I look back at him, I realize he’s already stripped down to his boxers. Holy God.
I nod weakly and enter the bathroom within his room, quickly brushing my teeth and ignoring the little voice in my head saying how awful I probably look. I release my ponytail and run my fingers through my long hair, since I can’t find a brush anywhere. I look over at the claw-footed bathtub wistfully, appreciating how impeccably clean and expensive it looks and wondering if Gabriel would allow me to have a nice bubble bath in it. My mind wanders to thoughts of him sitting in it with me, gently scrubbing my back, trailing wet kisses down my neck... I shudder. I just need some sleep. Some part of me is still hoping I’ll wake up on the street in the morning, as if this all had been but a dream. It still sounds pretty good to me. It’d be easier, knowing I wouldn’t have to face him.
But I just change into the jammies I’ve pulled out of my duffel bag and steel myself and walk out the door. Gabriel’s lying on the carpeted floor with his hands behind his head, his tight abs delicious and his scruffy face irresistibly gorgeous in the lowlight. It takes all my willpower not to just curl up beside his warmth and drift off to sleep. He smiles softly at me and says, “Cool pajamas.”
I look down at my Yummy Sushi pajamas and frown.
“No, really, they’re great,” he says immediately, his face breaking into a grin.
The side of my mouth pulls up into a halfhearted smile and I then tuck myself under the covers of the bed, rolling to my side facing him. “Gabriel, you should be able to sleep in your own bed,” I say. “I can take the floor.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Lila Grace,” he replies dismissively, pulling his large blanket over himself and closing his eyes. “Goodnight.”
“Gabriel,” I say.
“No, Lila. I promised you a warm bed. Now go to sleep.”
“But Gabriel,” I say, annoyed at how whiny I sound. Still, I cannot give it up. “You deserve a warm bed, too, you know. I’m only the guest.”
“I do suppose that bed would be warmer for you if I were sleeping right beside you,” he answers.
“Um, that’s not what I meant.”
“You’re not sleeping on the floor.”
“You’re not, either,” I tell him.
“Fine. Suit yourself.”
“Wait, no, Gabriel, seriously.” I make a move to get out of the bed, but he’s already over here before I can. He tosses his blanket over us and snuggles into his pillow, his eyes finally closing. I sigh. “You aren’t going to turn off the lamp?” The lamp on the dresser was a soft light, almost like a little night-light.
He shakes his head. “I don’t like sleeping complete darkness. Don’t ask.”
I smile. “I don’t, either.”
He smiles back sleepily and says, “Goodnight, Miss Flowers.”
“Goodnight, Gabriel,” I say, and I don’t know how long I lie there watching him sleep, but the last thing I remember is the sun rising and my mind finally crashing from the insurmountable fatigue of a night well-spent in overthinking.
The glorious California sun is finally setting on me after the longest day of my life, and I feel incredibly lucky that I can now manage to stay fed for another week.