A few more days pass and I know I’m killing time. I twist the card Miss Black gave me, eyeing the phone number like it has teeth. Nerves twist my stomach into knots. Stop thinking, I scold myself and press the digits into my phone.
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Miss Black answers on the second ring. “Can I help you?” she asks.
I find my voice. “Apparently, you can. I want to know what’s next, if I accept your offer.” I know Miss Black knows who I am, that she expected me to ring her.
“Pictures, blood tests, and setting up a profile page is the next step. All of that is done here. Come in tomorrow night at 7:00pm and don’t be late.” The line goes dead.
I look at the phone cradled in my hand. This is my choice. I choose not to sleep in a box. I choose to keep a roof over my head. I choose to be a. Mentally, I pause. I still can’t admit it, not even to myself.
I dress quickly and run out of the apartment before Dennis tries to talk to me. He’s Amber’s boyfriend, a short, stocky looking guy that flirts with anything that breathes. I can’t stand him The only person who irritates me more is Amber. I tug a sweater over my head and pull on my sneakers. I lace them, hopping on my foot and practically running for the door. Amber isn’t here, but she gave her boyfriend a key. Of course, she didn’t ask me. I try not to think about it and make a beeline for the door.
Dennis is standing at the kitchen counter wearing nothing but a smile. Seriously. Pants, man! Pui some clothes on. He starts to say something to me. I don’t look at him
“Not now, Dennis! And I swear to God, if you don’t start wearing clothes when Amber isn’t around, I’m going to put crazy glue on your favorite seat and laugh my ass off when yours is stuck to the sofa.”
“Harsh. I’m just—” he says as I slam the door behind me and cut off his sentence. The guy is an idiot. He flirts with everyone and everything, and to top it off, he thinks walking around naked should be a sport. Maybe it should be, but not for him and not in my apartment.
I’m dressed comfortably tonight. I have to hitch a ride to get my car. I’m hoping it’s still there and the place didn’t tow it during the day.
Mel picks me up downstairs. “Hey, you ready?”
I nod. “Yeah, I couldn’t be more ready.” I walk around to the passenger side and slip into her car. Mel starts the car and stashes her purse in the back seat.
“Dennis?” she asks as I buckle up and she pulls into traffic. I nod. “Naked?” I nod again. “Tha fool needs to wear pants.”
“I told him that I’d glue his ass to the couch if he doesn’t cut it out.”
Mel snort laughs and cuts someone off. They blare their horn at her. Mel flips the driver off and bobs and weaves through the cars like a race car driver. “I bet he took that well.”
“I didn’t stick around to find out.”
“Uh huh, and with good reason.”
Mel drives me to my car. She looks around like she wants to ask me something, but she doesn’t. The parking lot is about half filled. My car blends in, well, as much as it normally does anyway. Thank God it wasn’t towed.
I slip out and thank her. “I’ll see you later tonight.”
“Good deal. There’s a party at Mack’s. You planning on stopping by?”
I shake my head. The wind picks up and blows my hair. I tuck a strand behind my ear. “Can’t. Gotta study.”
She nods. “You’re not going to work tonight, are you?”
I shake my head. “Nah, actually I’m going to give notice. I’ve had another job offer and I decided to take it.” I feel nervous and excited at the same time. If she wasn’t beaming at me, I wouldn’t have been able to say it.
Mel makes a high pitched noise that sounds like a squirrel being hit with a tennis racket. She bounces up and down in her seat. “You told Black yes? Ah! I can’t believe it! Make sure to add goodie-two-shoes to your profile. Guys like that kind of wholesome—hey! What are you…?” I slan the door shut and smile at her. I wave my fingers at her through the window and hear some choice words through the glass.
“Yeah, yeah. I’ll see you later, foul mouth,” I say, grinning.
The window slides down. “Goodie-two-shoes is gonna be your new nickname.”
“Funny. And I thought you’d go with something more classic.” I smirk at her and she shakes her head. Her hoop earrings sway back and forth as her mouth drops open.
“I’m saving those for later.” Mel shoots a knowing look at me. It makes my stomach dip, like I have no idea what I’m in for. “When are they doing your kit?”
“I’m so coming!”
I fold my arms over my chest and tilt my head to the side. “Fine, as long as you don’t make it weirder, because it’s already weird.”
“Yeah, I—” Mel’s eyes fixate on something behind me. She stops talking and has a strange look on her face.
A familiar voice fills my ears and my body reacts. “Avery?” I turn slowly and see Sean walking up behind me.
Mel’s eyebrows lifts so high they’re about to slip off her face. “Is that—?”
I give her a look that says SHUT UP. “No.”
Sean stops next to Mel’s window and stands in front of me. “Long time no see, hot lips.”
My face flames red. Mel’s mouth opens, making an audible holy crap sound. I turn to her and tap my hand on the door. “Better get going. I’ll catch up with you later.” Code: Go away right now and ii you say anything, I swear to God, I’ll break your face.
Of course, Mel says something. “So, hot lips? Meaning you’ve already sampled the goods?” “Something like that,” Sean says smiling. I take his hand and pull him away from her car.
“Get your ass home, Mel. I’ll see you later.” I keep my hand in Sean’s and pull him back toward my car, as Mel pulls out of the parking lot. I know she didn’t want to leave, but I’m relieved she did.
Nervously, I jabber, trying to fill the holes in my head. I feel like I’m hemorrhaging words. They keep coming until Sean stops me. When I reach for my car door, he stops me, and turns me toward him Reaching for my face, he tilts my chin up and looks into my eyes. I freeze. My heart pounds harder and harder. I think it might explode. A shiver slips down my spine.
Sean says, “There are very few things that captivate me as much as you do.” His eyes drift toward my lips before lifting to meet my gaze. Butterflies fill my stomach. An insane compulsion to giggle washes over me, but I manage to subdue it to a smile.
“Insane compliments will get you insane answers.” I feel the grin stretching across my face. “Let’s keep our feet firmly planted in reality.”
“All right. How about this? I have never, ever met someone that draws me in the way you do. It’s everything—the way your hair sways when you walk, the curve of your hips at your thigh, the sound of your voice, the way your eyes dart away when I compliment you—like no one has ever told you how beautiful you are—everything about you is enticing. Like a moth to a flame.”
“Ah, it’s cliché time.”
Sean touches my cheek with his hand, slowly slipping his warm fingers across my skin. My stomach twists into knots. I want to lean into him, but I don’t. My eyes close as he does it. I can’t hide how much I like his touch. His voice pulls my gaze back to his lips. “There are only so many ways to tell a woman she’s beautiful. I’m bound to run into a few clichés from time to time.”
I smile shyly, like I don’t believe he finds me that attractive and turn my face away. It breaks the contact with his hand. I wish I hadn’t done it, but I can’t feel like this about him He’s going to be something else, someone else. This can’t happen. I open the car door and slip into the seat. I dig the key out of my purse and stick it into the ignition and twist. I feel like I’m forgetting something. Sear makes my brains melt and I can’t think. The car doesn’t start. It doesn’t even try to turn over. Ugh slacker car from hell.
“You forgot the magic spray,” he says softly through the cracked window. Sean holds up a can of ether and walks to the front of the car. He lifts the hood and sprays. I hear his voice a second later. “Now try.”
I gas it and turn the key. The engine sputters to life. Sean walks back around to my window. I roll it down half way, where it gets stuck. Sean slips me the can. “I thought you might need that.”
Smiling at him coyly, I ask, “Are you stalking me, Mr. Jones?”
Sean shakes his head and leans against the roof of the car. When he does it, he moves in closer to me and I catch his scent. It fills my head and I inhale deeper. “Quite the contrary, Miss Smith. I go ou of my way to avoid you, however, you keep appearing right in front of my favorite diner at various hours doing all sorts of strange things. It’s difficult to ignore you.”
“Strange things?” I grin. “Such as?”
“You have a spray start car, for starters. That’s not something I see every day. Second, you chased your car after getting it jacked, which was something, especially since you had every intention of getting your car back. When you consider that the car has no monetary value, it makes me wonder why you’d risk your life for it. And after much consideration, I’ve decided you’ve filled the tires with gold and that is the reason why you couldn’t possible part with this beast, and it also explains why you go through ether cans like hairspray.”
I blink at him Am I strange? When did that happen? The image of using ether as hairspray enters my mind and I laugh like a hyena. “You pegged me, good citizen. Thank you for watching my golden goose while I was away at school, failing my tests. I shall reward you greatly.” I’m joking, not thinking about what I’ saying as I say it.
Sean’s smile slips. “And what reward will that be?”
“You’ll have to wait and see.”
Sean straightens and steps away from the car so that I can pull out of the parking spot. I’ve been revving the car engine every few seconds to keep it running. Exhaust fumes fill the cold air, making white smoke.
He says, “I’ll see you around, hot lips.”
“Oh, you have no idea.” Grinning, I pull my car out of the parking lot and head back to the dorm. I’ll quit tomorrow. Right then, I felt so good and everything was going right for a change. I didn’t want to mess it up.