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Lila and Nate learn this the hard way. They are the star-crossed lovers of Glendale High. For three years the students have waited for the two to get together. They begged Nate to put his past relationship behind him, and cringed when Lila started dating Bryce. Just your typical teenage romance, except they’re the teachers.
Lila, a guidance counselor with a sweet demeanor, has an answer for every problem, every problem but her own. A visit from childhood friend Bryce thrusts her calm world into turmoil, as emotions buried deep inside are dragged to the surface. He soon realizes what only a friend can notice and a lover regret, that Lila, unbeknownst to herself, is in love with Nate.
Nate has seen better days. He is a history teacher stuck living in the past. Depression has kept his love for Lila unspoken, his ego frail after being cheated on.
Now Lila and Nate’s coworkers must unleash a scheme and uncover Lila’s true feelings. In a school this nosey what better way to get fast results than to involve the student population? The students are all too eager to get involved.
If everything goes as planned Lila will have to choose between two men. If her friends fail they might destroy these three and ruin their friendship. No wonder the scheme is called Project Torture.
Lila Erickson watched with sluggish eyes while her margarita glass was refilled. Again. By her math this was her fifth cup. Maybe her sixth with the way the tan carpet rolled in shallow waves at her feet. She put a hand on the wooden coffee table. It kept floating, bringing her arm along for the ride. She placed her other hand on her head. The rolling stopped. Drats, it was her, not the apartment.
Her good friend and roommate, Ette, hummed as she filled two glasses. She ignored Lila’s hand plastered to her head and pushed the drink closer. “So…” she took a sip of her own margarita. “Bryce is coming for a visit?”
Lila groaned and pushed the cup away. This wasn’t a Saturday night drinking binge. This wasn’t helping Ette get over her latest fling. This was “get the counselor drunk so she’d spill her guts.” Lila wasn’t biting. Yet.
Desperate for a distraction, she became lost in the scene outside their apartment window. The yellow light of the parking lot illuminated a lone tree. The autumn leaves swayed in the light breeze—waves of green, yellow, and red, the latter reminiscent of Bryce’s hair. Her heart skipped a beat. She darted her eyes to the floor, choking on newfound desire. Like all things uncomfortable, she wanted to keep the meaning hidden deep inside. Thanks to Ette, the alcohol had already called her bluff. A shiver raced down her spine as she eyed her friend. Ette grinned over her glass.
Lila grabbed a pillow and thrust her head in. Bryce was her childhood friend, nothing more. They had been friends since kindergarten and stayed in touch after he moved away when they were ten.
“The cute redhead in the flesh, this should be good,” Ette drooled, already planning on her next conquest.
Lila dug her nails into the pillow.
Ette sensed Lila’s capitulation. “Why is this bad? I thought he was one of your best friends?”
“Oh, he is. But he was always just that—a friend. Now the door that leads to ‘other’ has opened and I can’t find the key.” Clutching onto the pillow, Lila’s nails dug into the fabric, threatening to poke holes.
“Sounds like someone has a crush on their childhood friend.”
“Yes.” Lila clasped a hand over her mouth, disbelieving her voice. “And that’s wrong.”
“Oh for God sakes. What’s so wrong about it? So you’ll flirt a little as you talk about days long past. Maybe he’ll flirt too?” Ette leaned forward in anticipation of the chase.
“I thought we were supposed to be helping you?”
Ette rolled over and ran a hand through her long blond hair. “It’s the same-old, same-old. Dating a week and the temperature ran cold. I’m out the door. I’ll drink,” she eyed her empty glass, “which it looks like I’m already up to. From here I’ll sulk in my room for a few days and then get all dolled up and go flirt shamelessly with some unsuspecting stranger.” She licked her lips in anticipation of yet another anonymous sexual encounter.
“Sounds like you’re going to be fine.”
Ette placed an arm around Lila. “Look, you love Bryce, he’s one in a million, and a friend of twenty years is hard to come by. You also know each other quite well. If the feelings are mutual, you can discover where this new path will take you. If not, you’ll still enjoy his weekly e-mails.”
Lila’s eyes drifted away from Ette. She couldn’t put twenty years on the line. She couldn’t risk ruining a friendship, no matter how good looking the pudgy boy had become.
Ette swirled the liquid around, watching her friend. “Do me a favor. Don’t turn into Nate on me.”
Lila stopped cold. She turned sharply to her friend. “What does that mean?”
“Seek out the opportunity in Bryce, don’t hide behind some shadow like Nate.”
“Nate isn’t hiding behind a shadow.” Lila blinked as Nate’s blue eyes came to mind. She shook her head. Great, now she was hallucinating eye colors. “He’s been hurt by a loved one.”
Ette stood up. “Here we go, defending Nate when I was proving a point.”
Lila sat dumbfounded, unable to wrap her head around what had happened.