She kicks the tire with her boot then lets out a yelp of pain and hops around on one foot. “Just one more year. That’s all I’m asking!”
She doesn’t see me and I narrow my gaze, taking her in. She’s downright frumpy in those pants and old shirt. Honestly, she looks like she just rolled out of bed, threw on a hat, and came to the store. I recall her heart-shaped face under the fluorescent lights, the smarty-pants curl to her lips, the sly barbs she directed at me. I couldn’t even see the color of her eyes behind those nerdy glasses.
One of the girls asks me to unlock the car, and I click the fob.
I walk around to where the Four Dragons girl is. “Car trouble?” I ask, and she jumps and whips around, a slow flush rising on her cheeks.
She fidgets and stares at the ground. “I think it’s the alternator or the battery. Honestly, I have no idea, but I’m sure it’s expensive.”
“Ah, I see.”
“Yeah.” She glances back at her car, a frown worrying her forehead.
I grew up in a world where if a vehicle didn’t work or was involved in a fender bender, another one took its place. When I was sixteen, my parents gave me a white tricked-out Hummer, and when I wrecked it six months later, they replaced it with a black one. A long sigh comes from me. I had material things, not denying that, but I would have traded it in for parents who cared about me.
She blows out a breath, full of defeat. “Son of a nutcracker.”
“Hey, that’s mine.”
“No, it’s Will Ferrell’s. It would have been nice if you’d said it when I needed it. You cost me.”
“Son of a nutcracker,” I snap. “That work?”
“I don’t have my phone handy, so no. It has to be spontaneous. I can’t cheat. It has to be fair and square.”
No clue what she’s jabbering about.
We stare at each other, and a prickling sensation flutters over my neck—just like it did in the store. The vulnerable arch of her nape, the curve of her face, those lips…
She reminds me of—
Behind me, the girls break my train of thought as they argue and hash out a quick game of rock paper scissors to see who gets to sit up front with me. Exasperated with their antics, I glance back at them and sigh, then turn to Four Dragons. Courtesy demands I offer help. It didn’t demand I give her a package of cookies, though. Maybe part of me wanted to annoy her. I saw her staring at us when we walked in, felt the way she dissected us. I know what she thinks—that I’m a guy with women all over me. This is true, but these girls are not by choice.
“You need a ride?” I ask gruffly.
“I’d call an Uber, but I don’t…” She stops and shadows flit over her face, worry tightening her eyes.
She doesn’t have the money for an Uber. Her Toyota is old, and there’s a dent in the bumper. She winced when she paid for her groceries.
“Hey, Babycakes,” Ashley calls from behind me. “You coming? I won and get to ride up front with you, wahoo! Can we listen to my songs? I have a playlist—”
“Sure, sweetheart, whatever,” I call back, cutting her off, barely listening because Four Dragons has swiped up her bags from the car and is marching across the parking lot. I hear the clinking of the beer bottles as they bounce against each other.
“Hey!” I shout at her back. “Where are you going?”
“Walking home, duh,” she says as I jog up next to her.
“Can’t you call someone? A friend?”
“I know how to take care of myself.” She throws her chin in the air—so proud—and picks up her pace, but she’s no match for my long legs.
“You’re running from me like you’re scared. Are you?”
“No, Damon, I’m not. You annoy me. You refused to hand over just one package of Oreos because I wasn’t attractive enough for you.”
“I never said you weren’t attractive!”
“It was on your face.”
“No, it wasn’t. Look, let me call you an Uber.”
“I don’t want an Uber, thank you.”
“I just want to help.” I’m worried about her. She’s barely holding on to all those bags.
We’ve reached the edge of the parking lot and she’s about to step onto the sidewalk. A big truck roars past us on the road a few feet away, and my gut clamors for her to stop, protective instincts flaring. “Come on, let’s put aside the fact that we don’t like each other. Since you don’t want the Uber, let me give you a ride.”
“I don’t know who you are.”
“I’m Dillon McQueen, the quarterback for the Tigers. I promise, you know me.”
Her brows arch. “Um, never heard of you.”
I take my cap off and rub at my disheveled hair as I laugh. Sure, sure. Keep saying that…