“You shouldn’t have done that,” I said once we’d sat down.
“Paid for the two of us like we’re a couple. I told you, we’re just friends.”
“What? Friends can’t buy each other ice cream? I just wanted to do you a little favor after you came to the hockey game with me on such short notice.”
I thought of it more as him doing a favor to me by inviting me, but whatever. “Fine. I’m getting it next time, though. I know you’re purposely trying to build up my debt to you.”
He chuckled. “You’re reading ulterior motives into my chivalry. I like that though. You’re being honorable and you’re also trying to keep me honest.” He sipped on his milkshake. “It’s cute.”
My cheeks flustered from the compliment. I opened my mouth to protest but he spoke first. “I do love this place though.”
Calming down, I took a bite of my banana split and my brain took a brief trip into flavorland. It was every bit as good as I remembered. “Yeah, Clyde’s is definitely one of the highlights of this town.”
“So,” he said. “I feel like you know all kinds of stuff about me, but I don’t know that much about you.”
I shrugged. “What do you want to know?”
“Well, you know I like training and fighting. What do you like to do when you’re not learning about new sports?”
“I don’t know. Watching trashy shows on TV, hanging out with my suitemate Daniela . . . I guess the latest thing I enjoy doing is drawing.”
“Yeah, I’m in a class for it right now. It’s my favorite by a longshot.”
“That’s cool. If I recall, you do have an active imagination—cats and all.” He grinned.
“Dude, I totally saw that cat! I swear I wasn’t making that up.”
“Sure,” he said, giving me a wink and taking another sip of his milkshake.
“You’re really giving me a hard time about that aren’t you?”
“If I was really giving you a hard time, you’d know it,” he teased.
“Sure,” I said with a smile, mimicking his sarcastic remark. I couldn’t help but admire Hunter’s ability to turn an objection into a flirtatious suggestion. I took another bite of my delicious banana split, half-wondering if I could keep my guard up around him the longer I spent with him.
He smiled, apparently pleased by my comeback. “So what do you like to draw?”
My mind flew to the drawing of the hammer I had been doing the previous week in Muller’s class. “Lots of stuff. I don’t know.”
“The only art I know anything about is tattoos. Do you draw any designs like that?”
My brows shot up as I scrambled to decide whether I should tell him about the tattoo of his I had been sketching out last week. I kind of wanted him to roll up his sleeve so I could see how close I had come. “I think I’ve tried a few designs like that before.”
“Do you have any, by the way?” he asked.
I shook my head. “Nope. Virgin skin over here.”
He cocked an eyebrow and my face grew hot. “That’s not what I meant,” I said shrilly. I reached over the table to smack him on the arm.
He caught my hand before it could find its target. I gasped at both his quick reflexes and the warmth of his touch.
He squeezed my fist gently. “I have a lot of practice at that, ya know. MMA fighter and all.”
I tried to pull my hand back but he held on.
“How are your hands, still cold?” he asked, bringing his other hand around mine and bringing them to rest on the table.
My chest tightened and I felt my face getting even warmer. “I don’t know,” I said. “Can I have my hand back please?”
“It’s feels like ice. Don’t you want to warm it up, just for a minute?”
I looked down and steadied myself. “No, I think I’ll be okay.”
He let my hand go and shrugged, leaning back. “Alright, just trying to help a friend out.”
“It was appreciated,” I said quickly then dug into my ice cream.
“So we were talking about your drawing,” he said after a minute. “If you don’t do tattoos, what kind of artist do you want to be?”
I looked up from my banana split, glad to have some time to think. What did I want to be? I didn’t really know. The furthest ahead I would allow myself to think was the end of the semester. Getting to the end of the semester intact would be an accomplishment.
“I don’t know,” I said. “Still figuring that out. I’m really just focused on the present right now, to be honest.” I had another bite. “What about you? What do you want to do? Did you always dream of being a cage fighter?”
He scoffed and looked down, then over my shoulder, eyes unfocused. I looked back but saw nothing that could have caught his attention, so I turned my gaze back to him. “Earth to Hunter,” I said, waving my hand in his face.
As if coming out of a trance, he blinked and shook his head. “I’m focused on the present too. Just this minute, I think it’s pretty great, actually.” He smiled warmly.
Hunter and I finished our desserts then we got some root beer floats as an after-dessert dessert. I had a good time hanging out with Hunter. We laughed and teased one another a lot. It wasn’t until I got back to my dorm at two in the morning, drunk on root beer floats that I realized I hadn’t thought about my past the entire night. That damn immovable stone hadn’t been anywhere in sight. For a few hours, I’d felt like a normal college girl hanging out with her guy friend on a Friday night.
Being friends with Hunter certainly had its perks, but I knew I needed to be careful that we stayed just friends. He’d teased me about being jealous of other girls and I’d emphatically told him I wasn’t jealous. But when I thought about it further, I realized I might’ve been lying.
I’d gotten in trouble. I was eight years old and it was Christmas morning. Dad had just started at Anderson & Partners PLC, though I didn’t know its name at the time. We weren’t wealthy by any means, but I was a kid and I didn’t care. All I knew was that I was loved. Mom and Dad got along great those days. We were happy. We were a family.
I opened Mom’s present first. It was a baby blue dress with sequins on it and it was the most beautiful dress I had ever seen. She had to help me put it on and afterwards I gave her a big hug and danced around the living room pretending that I was Cinderella. Then I opened Dad’s gift.