I’VE BEEN A DOG-WALKER on an episode of Will & Grace.
A bakery shop owner in a Lifetime movie.
Ryan Gosling’s kid sister in an indie flick that never saw the light of day.
Victim #2 in a season eighteen episode of Law & Order: SVU.
But today I’m faced with my most challenging role yet; a camera-less reality show called Girl with Lifelong Crush on Best Guy Friend starring Melrose Claiborne as … Melrose Claiborne.
Standing outside Nick Camden’s Studio City bungalow, I straighten my shoulders, smooth my blonde waves into place, and press my index finger against the doorbell. The heavy thump of my heart suggests it’s going to fall to the floor the second he opens the door—but I’m hopeful the butterflies in my stomach will catch it first.
He has this effect on me.
Every. Single. Time.
And that’s saying something because it takes a lot to make me nervous, to throw me off my game. But my crush on him has only intensified over the years, growing stronger with each unrequited year that passes.
But last night, out of nowhere, Nick called me—which was strange because Nick never calls. He only ever texts. He’s so against calling, in fact, that he has his ringer permanently set to “off’ and his voicemail box has been full for the last six and a half years.
“Mel, I need to talk to you tomorrow,” he’d said, breathless almost. There was a hint of a smile in his tone, giddiness. “It’s really important.”
“Nick, you’re scaring me,” I told him, half wondering if someone slipped something into his drink and he was drugged out of his mind. “Just tell me now.”
“I have to tell you in person. And I have something to ask you, something crazy important,” he said. “Oh my god. This is insane. I’m so damn nervous, Mel. But as soon as you get here tomorrow, I’ll tell you. I’ve been wanting to tell you about this for a long time, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t until now. But now I can. And I can’t fucking wait. This is huge, Mel. This is … oh, God.”
“Nick …” I paced my bedroom floor, my left palm clasped across my forehead. In nearly two decades of friendship, I’d never heard Nick so worked up before. “Can’t you just tell me now?”
“Come over tomorrow. Around three,” he’d said. “This is something that needs to be done in person.”
I ring his doorbell again before checking the time on my phone. Stifling a yawn, I rise on my toes and try to peek inside the glass sidelights of his front door. Knowing Nick, he probably got sidetracked or ran out for burritos and got caught up in conversation with someone he knows.
Then again … he was pretty insistent about talking to me in person at three o’clock about this “major” thing. I can’t imagine he’d space this off.
All night, I tossed and turned, trying to wrap my head around what this could possibly be, how I could know someone for so long and fail miserably trying to get a read on them.
Growing up, Nick lived next door, and the two of us were inseparable from the day he first moved into the neighborhood and I found him by the creek trying to capture bullfrogs—which I promptly forced him to set free. By the end of the day, we both realized our bedroom windows aligned on the second floors of our houses, and by the end of the week, he gave me a walkie-talkie and told me I was his best friend.
When we were ten, he gave me a friendship necklace—like the kind girls usually give to other girls. He gave me the half that said “best” and wore the “friend” half but always tucked it under his shirt so no one would give him any shit—not that anyone would.
Everyone loved Nick.
It wasn’t until the summer after seventh grade that Nick hit a growth spurt and everything changed.
His voice got deeper.
His legs got longer.
Even his features became more chiseled and defined.
It was like he aged several years over the course of a couple of months, and I found myself looking at him in ways I never had before. And when I closed my eyes at night, I found myself thinking about what it’d be like if he kissed me.
Almost overnight, I’d gone from running next door with a messy ponytail to see if he wanted to ride bikes … to slicking on an extra coat of Dr. Pepper Lip Smackers and running a brush through my hair any time I knew I was going to see him.
Suddenly I couldn’t look at him without blushing.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t the only one who noticed Nick’s head-turning transformation.
Nick’s door swings open with a quick creak and I don’t have time to realize what’s happening before he sweeps me into his arms and swings me around the front porch of his rented bungalow.
“Melly!” He buries his face into my shoulder, squeezing me so hard I can’t breathe, nearly suffocating the swarm of butterflies in my middle.
I breathe in that perpetual Nick scent, the one that always feels like home. Like the faintest hint of bar smoke and cheap fabric softener and Irish Spring soap.
Growing up in Brentwood, the son of a successful screenwriter and composer, Nick could’ve had it all—materially and professionally. His parents had connections that would put Steven Spielberg to shame.
But all he ever wanted was to be a regular guy who got by on merit, and I adored that about him.
“Look at you,” he says when he puts me down. His hands are threaded in mine as his ocean gaze scans me from head to toe. “I haven’t seen you in months.”
Three months, two weeks, and five days—but who’s counting?
The last time we hung out was on my birthday, and there were so many people at the bar, I barely had a chance to say more than two sentences to him all night. We’d made plans to get together the following weekend, but his band booked a gig in Vegas and I was leaving to film a Lifetime movie in Vancouver the day before he was coming back.
Life’s been consistent that way, always pulling us in separate directions at the most inconvenient of times.
“You find the place all right?” he asks as he leads me inside. The scent of Windex and clean laundry fills my lungs, and a folded blanket rests over the back of a leather chair in the living room.
I chuckle at the thought of Nick tidying up before I got here. He was always a slob growing up. Case in point? One year I tripped over a pair of his Chucks as I entered his bedroom and almost knocked my front teeth out on a messy stack of vinyl records. His empty guitar case caught my fall, but the next day he bought a shoe organizer.
“I did,” I say, glancing around his new digs. Last time I saw him, he was living in some apartment with four roommates in Toluca Lake. The time before that he was shacking up with a fuck buddy-slash-Instagram model named Kadence St. Kilda, but that was short-lived because the girl ultimately wanted exclusivity, and that’s something Nick’s never been able to offer anyone—that I know of. “When did you move here?”
“Last month,” he says. “I’m subletting from my drummer’s cousin.”
The sound of pots and pans clinking in the kitchen tells me we’re not alone, but I’m not surprised. Nick has always had roommates. He’s painfully extroverted. Guy can’t stand to be alone for more than five minutes but not in the clingy, obnoxious sort of way. More in the charismatic, life-of-the-party, always-down-for-a-good-time sort of way.
I follow Nick to the living room, and he points to the middle cushion of a cognac leather sofa before slicking his palms together and pacing the small space.
“Nick.” I laugh. “You’re acting like a crazy person … you know that, right?”
His ocean gaze lands on mine and he stops pacing for a moment. “I’m so fucking nervous.”
“You don’t have to be nervous around me. Ever.”
“This is different.” He stops pacing for a second. “This is something I’ve never told you before.”
My heart flutters, and some long-buried hope makes its way out in the form of a smile on my face, but I bite it away.
I’d never admit this out loud, but last night a very real part of me believed this entire thing centered around Nick wanting to tell me he has feelings for me, that he wants to date me.
The idea is absurd, I know.
Things like this don’t happen out of nowhere.
I’m not naïve and I’m not an idiot. I know the odds of my best friend going months without seeing me and suddenly professing his love for me are slim to none, but I’ve tried to come up with alternate theories, and none of them made sense because Nick’s never been nervous around me for any reason.
What else could possibly make him nervous around me other than a heartfelt confession?
Crossing my legs and sitting up straight, I say, “Come on. Spit it out. I don’t have all day.”
He cups his hands over his nose and mouth, releasing a hard breath, and when he lets them fall, I find the dopiest grin on his face.
His eyes water like a teenage girl with a backstage pass to a Harry Styles concert.
Nick tries to speak but he can’t.
Oh my god.
He’s doing it.
He’s actually telling me he likes me …
“Melrose,” he says, pulling in a hard breath before dropping to his knees in front of me. He takes my hands in his, and I swear my vision fades out for a second. “You know when we were kids and we used to tell each other everything?”
“There was something I never told you,” he says, eyes locked with mine. “I guess … I guess I was afraid to say it out loud. I was afraid this thing I wanted so bad, this thing I wanted more than anything I’d ever wanted in my life, wasn’t going to come true. And I thought that by admitting it, I was only going to jinx myself. So I kept it to myself, but I can’t anymore. It’s too big. It’s eating away at me and it has been for years. But it’s time. I have to tell you.”
Nick never rambles.
His trembling hands squeeze mine and then he rises, taking the spot on the couch beside me. Cupping my face in his hands, he offers a tepid smile that’s soon eaten away by his own anxiety. “This is insane, Melrose. I can’t believe I’m about to tell you this.”
My mouth parts and I’m milliseconds from blurting out something along the lines of “I’ve liked you since we were kids, too …” but I bite my tongue and let him go first.
“You know how I have my band, right?” he asks, referring to Melrose Nights, the band he founded in high school and named after me.
I nod, heart sinking. No … plummeting.
“What about it?” I ask, blinking away the embarrassed burn in my eyes.
“My dream, Mel, was always to hit it big,” he said. “Like, commercially big.”
My brows lift. This is news to me.
He was always about the indie scene, always so against the big music corporations that controlled every song the American people were played on the radio.
“Really?” I tuck my chin against my chest. “Because you always said—”
“I know what I always said,” he cuts me off. “But the more I got to thinking about it, the more I thought … I just want my songs to be in the ears of as many people as possible. And it’s not even about becoming famous or having money, you know I’m not about any of that. I just want people to know my songs. That’s all.”
I swallow the lump in my throat and glance toward a wood-burning fireplace in the corner where a crushed, empty can of Old Milwaukee—Nick’s signature beverage of choice—rests on the mantel next to what appears to be a crumpled lace bra.
Guess he forgot a few things when he was straightening up …
“Okay, so what are you trying to tell me?” I ask, squinting.
“We got signed …” his mouth pulled so wide, he looks like a bona fide crazy person right now, “… and not only that, but we’re going on tour with Maroon 5.”
I try not to let my rampant disbelief show on my face, but something tells me I’m failing miserably. He reads my expression, searching my eyes, and his silly grin fades.
“You hate Maroon 5,” I say.
“I used to hate Maroon 5,” he corrects me. “Anyway, the act they had fell through last minute, so they got us. We leave next week.”
“Next week? For how long?”
“Six months.” His callused hands smack together. “Six months on the road with one of the biggest music acts in North America.”
He says that last part out loud, like he’s still in disbelief over this entire thing.
Which makes two of us.
“Wow, Nick … that’s … this is huge. You were right. This is some big news,” I say. Everything is sinking. My voice. My heart. My hope. “I’m so happy for you.”
I throw my arms around him, inhale his musky scent, and squeeze him tight. There’s a pang in my chest, a tightness in my middle, like that indescribable sensation that washes over you when you know something’s about to change and things will never be the same again.
But I meant what I said. I am happy for him. I had no idea this was what he wanted, but now that he’s shared this with me, I am thrilled for him. He’s my best friend, my oldest friend, and all I want is for him to be happy.
Plus, he deserves this.
Nick is insanely talented.
It all comes natural to him. Keeping it under wraps on some lowdown indie scene would be doing a disservice to the rest of the world.
“I get that this is huge, Nick, but I’m curious … why couldn’t you tell me this over the phone?” I ask. “Why’d you make me drive all the way out here just so you could tell me in person?”
Nick leans back, studying my face as he rakes his palm along his five o’clock shadow. “Because I have a favor to ask you …”
Lifting one brow, I study him right back. He’s never asked me a single favor as long as I’ve known him (excluding those times he wanted me to talk to girls for him in middle school or steal him an extra Italian Ice at lunch).
“See, I’m taking over this guy’s lease,” he says. “I pay fifteen hundred a month for my half of the rent. Plus utilities. You know what a cheap bastard I am, right? I just don’t want to throw that money away over the next several months, and I don’t want to stick Sutter with my half of the rent and everything because that’s just shitty.”
“Sutter?” I ask.
“Sutter Alcott. My roommate,” he says. “Cool guy. Electrician. Owns his own company. You’ll like him. Anyway, I know you’re living in your Gram’s guesthouse, but you’re the only person I know who’s not locked under a lease, so I thought mayyyyybe you might want to help me out for a few months? As a favor? And in return, I’ll … I don’t know. I’ll do something for you. What do you want? You want a backstage pass to a Maroon 5 concert? You want to meet Adam?”
“You’re already on a first name basis with Adam Levine?” I ask, head cocked.
Nick smirks. “Not yet. But I will be.”
“I don’t know …” I pull in a long, slow breath. “What about Murphy?”
“We’ve got a fenced-in yard,” he says, pointing toward the back of the house. “He’ll love it here.”
“What about your roommate? Would he be cool living with a stranger?” I ask.
“And you’re sure he’s not a serial killer?” I keep my voice low, leaning in.
Nick chokes on his spit. “Uh, yeah, no. He’s not a serial killer. Lady killer? Sure. Serial killer? No way.”
Our eyes hold and I silently straddle the line between staying put and saying yes to this little favor.
My cousin-slash-roommate, Maritza, recently moved out and got a place with her boyfriend, Isaiah, so it’s just Murphy and I in the guesthouse now. It gets quiet sometimes. Lonely too. And Gram’s on this travel-the-world kick lately. One week she’s home, the next week she’s in Bali for twelve days with her best friend Constance or one of the Kennedys.
A change of scenery might be nice …
“I’ll do anything, Mel. Anything.” He clasps his hands together and sticks out his bottom lip, brows raised.
“Begging’s not a good look for you. FYI,” I say.
“Okay, then what’s it going to take for you to say yes?” His hands drop to his lap.
I try to speak, but I don’t know what to say.
“See,” Nick says. “You don’t even have a good reason to turn me down.”
I can’t blame it on the location because it isn’t out of the way. I can’t blame it on my dog. I can’t blame it on a lease. I can’t blame it on money because fifteen hundred a month is exactly what Gram charges me for rent, because free rides aren’t a thing in the Claiborne family.
But aside from all of that, I know Nick would do this for me if I ever needed him to.
Shrugging, I look him in the eyes and smile. “Fine.”
A second later, I’m captured in his embrace and he’s squeezing me and bouncing like a hyper child. With one word, I’ve unearthed a side of Nick I never knew existed.
“I freaking love you, Mel,” he says, hugging me tighter. “I love you so much.”
I expected to hear those words today … just didn’t think I’d hear them in this context.