Starry-Eyed Love by Helena Hunting (Excerpt)

1

THE GREAT DATE DEBATE

LONDON

“One more round?” I tap my empty margarita glass.

“Ohhh, London’s cutting loose tonight!” Harley, my younger sister, elbows me playfully in the side, her dimpled grin wide and toothy.

Avery, our older sister, looks up from her phone, which she’s been on for most of the evening and points a finger at me. “I’m not piggybacking you home.”

“Ha ha. I’ll be fine. We had all those apps.” I motion to the nearly empty plate of spinach dip and the remains of our nachos.

Truth be told, I’m already feeling the first two margaritas, but I’m having too good a time to put a pin in it now. I’ll take a couple of Tylenols before bed, drink a gallon of water, and be fine tomorrow morning. Mostly fine, anyway.

When our server comes around again, I order another margarita, Harley picks a sex on the beach, and Avery asks for a half-pint of light beer. While we wait for our drinks to arrive, I arrange the paper stars I’ve amassed over the past couple of hours into a small pile. I’m a compulsive fidgeter, and I used to pick my nails. It’s a nervous habit, and one I’ve had to learn to curb. Now instead, I make origami stars. I’ve made about two dozen since we’ve been here, which has helped slow my margarita consumption.

“I gotta say, I’m really happy to have Fun London back.” Harley rests her head on my shoulder and hugs my arm. Her blond bob tickles my skin.

She looks like a little pixie, especially when she’s sitting beside me, since I’m a good head taller than she is.

“I’m always fun,” I say indignantly.

Even as her phone buzzes with another message, Avery sets it facedown on the table.

She and Harley exchange a look before Avery turns her gaze on me. “Every time you get into a relationship you turn into ‘Serious London.’” She makes air quotes around the unpleasant nickname.

“That’s ridiculous. I do not.”

Harley nods her agreement. “Sorry to break it to you, but you totally do.”

I glance from one to the other, and have to wonder if they’re both drunk. “Have you two been talking about this? I mean, you must have if you’ve picked nicknames like Fun London and Serious London.” At least they’re not calling me something worse.

“We don’t mean it in a bad way,” Harley assures me.

“I don’t know that saying I become an ‘unfun’ person when I’m in a relationship can be taken in any other way but bad.” I have no idea where they’re coming up with this.

Harley hugs my arm again. “We literally just noticed it before we came out this evening. You’ve been on the fence about Daniel for weeks now, and the second you broke things off, it was like a switch flipped. All of a sudden Serious London went on holiday and Fun London came out to play.” She taps my empty margarita glass. “Over the past eight months, I can count on one hand how many times you’ve come out with us for drinks and had more than one margarita. Daniel was a wet blanket, and he was weighing you down with his ‘poor me, it’s so hard to be a professional photographer blah blah blah’ complaining.” She hiccups loudly.

I was already aware that neither of my sisters had warm feelings for Daniel.

“I’m surprised it lasted as long as it did, to be honest,” Avery says from behind the rim of her pint glass.

“Well, his travel schedule was partly responsible for that.” I tried to make it work about four months longer than I should have, and struggled to convince myself that I was more into him than I was. I really did want him to be “the one.” On paper, he seemed like the perfect boyfriend. But as with all of my failed relationship attempts, we fizzled out. Like a fire made with wet wood, I could never find that spark people talked about. Ironic, given my last name is literally Spark.

I finally found the lady balls to break it off three days ago. And managed not to chew my nails to stubs before I had the dreaded conversation with Daniel, which is a feat on its own. My relief at it coming to an end was a pretty decent indicator that I had done the right thing. Of course, I felt bad about it since Daniel believed everything was going great. I’d had to give him the whole “it’s not you, it’s me” spiel. It was mostly true, and a lot better than telling him that kissing him was about as stimulating as an empty room with white walls. So I embellished a bit, saying I wasn’t looking for something serious at the moment.

Post-breakup, I did what I always do—I shifted my focus back into work, both at Spark House and my online Etsy store. Except tonight, Harley suggested we celebrate my freedom, and apparently the return of Fun London with drinks, so here we are.

“He was too needy,” Avery says.

“And kind of pretentious.” Harley wrinkles her nose.

I shrug. They’re not wrong. He was both of those things. “And also fairly uninspiring in bed.”

The server returns with our drinks, and we toast to cutting free pretentious, needy men.

Avery’s phone pings for the seven millionth time this evening.

“Speaking of needy, is that Declan?” My lips are a little loose, thanks to the drinks. And I think my jealousy is probably showing. Not that I want to be in a relationship where I’m attached at the hip. It’s more that Avery and Declan are ridiculously in love with each other. When they’re together, you can practically cut the sexual tension with a knife.

Avery gives me her unimpressed face. “He’s trying on suits and asking about the difference between periwinkle and sky blue.”

“Why doesn’t he just google it?” Harley pops the cherry from her drink into her mouth.

“I have no idea. Honestly, I don’t even know the difference between periwinkle and sky blue. Or if they’re the same color. I just said let’s go with our rec team colors. All he has to do is show them our old jerseys, and they can go from there.”

“I love you, but I will not be wearing a bridesmaid dress in team colors, especially when those colors are blue and maroon,” I tell my sister. “Lines need to be drawn somewhere.”

“I thought it would be way cool if we had a whole soccer-themed wedding. It could be super casual.”

This doesn’t surprise me. Avery is an athlete and an adventurer through and through, so I couldn’t imagine her wedding not incorporating what she loves. She and Declan met in college and became best friends as they bonded over sports. It was an interesting turn of events last year when they got together after she was in a serious car accident. Declan became her caregiver while she was healing, and they realized what everyone else already knew—they’d been in love with each other for years but hadn’t been willing to face it. And now they’re getting married. I’m happy that they’re so in love, but at the same time, it shines a light on how not in love I was with Daniel. I want to find my person, but I don’t have a male best friend to fall for.

“You just don’t want to wear heels.” I take another sip of my margarita, licking the salt from my lips.

A glint of light grabs my attention, and I glance at the table kitty-corner to us. A man wearing a watch lifts his beer to his lips. My gaze meets his briefly before I turn back to my sisters.

Harley leans in closer. Even though her drink is light on alcohol and high on sugar, she’s tipsy. She has an even lower tolerance than I do. “That guy over there is totally checking you out.” She tips her chin in his direction.

I slap her thigh under the table. “He is not. He’s probably checking you out. Or the game that’s on the TV behind us.”

“The TVs are on the other side of the bar. And he’s definitely not looking at me. He’s looking at you. His buddy keeps snapping his fingers at him like he’s trying to get his attention and failing.”

Avery starts to turn around, so I kick her under the table. “Don’t you dare look over there.”

Copyright © 2022 by Helena Hunting