There had to be a way out of this.
Lana ignored the knocks at the single stall bathroom door, all compulsion to be courteous and go back to her dismal date long since vanished.
With a growl, Lana smacked her head against the wall. Of course her date chose the ritzy restaurant next door to the cozy pizza place her ex co-owned. She’d spent six months telling herself she was over Riley, and all it took was sitting in that booth with a clear view into the life she’d left to realize it was all a lie.
Lana caught sight of the small window above the sink, a hint of a smile forming. She’d seen it done a dozen times in movies; how hard could it be?
Lana hoisted herself onto the edge of the sink and edged the person-sized window open. With a swift punch, the screen flew out, and she shimmied her torso through. If the man she’d left in the dining room hadn’t been casting sly glances at their pretty waitress since their arrival, she might have felt a twinge of guilt leaving him to pay for her overpriced salad.
Halfway through the window, as her eyes adjusted to the dim lit alley, she recognized her mistake.
This was not the side of the restaurant they’d parked on. The closed dumpster that should have been within arm’s reach was replaced by a six-foot drop to concrete, and she was stuck halfway through the bathroom window of the town’s ritziest eatery. The same side as…
A door farther down the alley opened with a high-pitched squeal, and the mouth-watering aroma of pizza filled the air. Several staff members from the early shift dispersed. Only one headed her way, and recognition kicked in with a gut-twisting punch the second the streetlight illuminated his rugged features.
Riley. Why did it have to be Riley?
He twirled his keys between his fingers as he headed to the car she now recognized parked a few metres to her left. Before she had a chance to choose between saving her pride and salvaging what was left of her dignity, Riley jerked to a stop, gaping at her for a moment in disbelief.
Lana blew at the bangs now obstructing her vision. “Hey, Riley.”
How he didn’t collapse in laughter at her predicament, she truly did not know. Finding your ex stuck halfway through the bathroom window of a restaurant? It sounded like the start of a bad joke. To his credit, he didn’t laugh, but his grin grew with each step towards her.
He tilted his head as he appraised her situation, amusement giving way to comical confusion. “What was your plan here?”
“Bad date and there was supposed to be a dumpster.” And at that moment the heels she’d managed to wedge onto the edge of the sink flew off, tipping her forward, her stocking feet failing to find purchase.
Riley reached out, catching her shoulders in time to stop her descent. “You always were terrible at directions,” he quipped, his tone lighter than the soft ache in his eyes.
“That is the definition of kicking someone when they’re down. Are you gonna help me or not?”
Riley chuckled and placed her hands on his shoulders. Steadying her with his hands braced beneath her arms, he started backing away, effectively pulling her waist and legs free.
In a classic romantic comedy, this would be a preface for some deep soul-gazing moment where they each came to the mutual conclusion that mistakes were made and they, for better or worse, belonged together.
Instead, it was a comedy of miscalculations. The second her feet jerked free of the window frame, the entire weight of her body slammed into Riley, toppling them to the ground like a well-timed bowling strike.
Moments after they detangled themselves, Lana lay beside him in the alley, staring up at the dark evening sky. Those words she’d been too afraid to admit six months ago tumbled free.
“I broke up with you because I was scared,” Lana whispered. “I’m still scared.” He’d been the best boyfriend, but the fear of actually falling in love frayed all her good sense into a panic that broke his heart.
“And you don’t think I am?”
Lana turned her head to find Riley watching her with an expression equal parts hopeful and hesitant.
“You were already hard to forget, Lana. You just made it impossible.”
Lana stared, dazed, as he stood and helped her to her feet. Riley’s words replayed until all the hope he hadn’t spoken aloud taunted her over her safety net into tentative bravery.
“Is it too late to ask…would you like to grab something to eat tonight? With me? It’ll probably be takeout but really it’s better than what they serve in there, and we used to do that all the time and I…” Her words trailed off, and she let them, everything she wanted to say being long since assumed.
Riley stared at her for a moment, then that breathtaking smile she missed more than all else lit up his face. “Do you want to go back for your shoes first?”
The answer was no, but she let a long firework of a kiss be her reply.
When not writing, Danielle spends her free time adventuring in the woods, cooking up unique recipes and reorganizing her bookshelves. It Had To Be You is her first published work.