“You know… One could say I have the upper hand with you right now.”
“You’re the one on your knees.”
“Ah, there you are, ornery as usual. I best get used to being on my knees around you.”
I start. “Why?”
“No reason.” He dips his face so I can’t read him as he pulls out a square bandage from the kit, rips the package with his teeth, and removes the backing. Carefully, he holds my foot and applies the beige bandage, his fingers dancing over my foot. Goosebumps rise on my body and I glare at them. Dear Body, ignore the fine example of male hotness in front of you. He is a womanizer as was evidenced in the Pig! Yes, he speaks French, the language of love, but you must ignore it!
Moments of silence pass as he takes my other ankle and performs his ministrations.
I clear my throat. “Are you what everyone thinks? Party boy who’s just passing time before he goes to the NFL?” I recall the countless girls on his social media, hugging him, kissing his cheek, smiling up at him…
“People see what they want to. What do you think?”
I think he’s got layers underneath that carefree demeanor. Or, at least, I hope he does.
He looks up, and I realize I haven’t answered his question. Instead, something weird comes out of my mouth. “When I look at you, I see storms in your eyes.” Maybe a glimmer of sadness. “It makes me wonder who you really are.”
He gives me a searching look then drops his gaze. “You’re not what I expected.”
“What did you expect?”
There are ten beats of silence. I know because I count them.
“I figured a girl like you, you’d be hard to hold onto.” His eyes hold mine, intensely, as if willing me to understand the meaning of his words. When I don’t take the bait, he exhales, a frustrated look on his face. “Anyway. Back to your earlier question. Most think I have everything, but no one ever does. I lost my brother.”
I hear the hint of barely suppressed grief in his voice.
He stands, too close for comfort yet not touching me. I have to hold myself back from leaning in and inhaling him. The air between us crackles, and part of me—the insane crazy girl part—wants him to kiss me. Maybe it’s because he’s being honest with me. This isn’t the guy in leather pants at the Pig.
“When was that?” I ask softly.
He studies my face. “Four years ago.”
Compassion fills me. “My parents passed four years ago as well. I’m sorry you lost him. There’s not much else people can say to make it better, is there?”
“No,” he says. “Most don’t get it. Your parents…what happened?” He pauses. “Sorry. Is that rude? I never quite know. I don’t talk about my brother much so…”
“No. It reminds me that they were real.” I dip my head, thinking of another loss I dealt with, a baby’s fragile heartbeat that faded away before it even had a chance. “They went for a ride on their motorcycle, and just never came back.” A long exhalation comes from my chest, emotion clawing at me. “It was a Saturday in September, and my mom made breakfast for all of us that morning. She spilled coffee on her shirt and Dad called her a klutz and kissed her on the nose. I remember how hot it still was when they rode off…” I swallow thickly. “Then, a state trooper showed up at the door, and the solemn expression on his face… I just knew. My life was never the same again.”
His throat bobs and he looks away, then back. “My brother died in June at a party with my friends at the lake. It was a beautiful day, sunshine and low humidity, not a cloud in sight. He wore these bright yellow swimming trunks with pink flamingos on them. Some of us were diving off a cliff, and he wanted to try.” He blinks rapidly. “He jumped before I could stop him.”
My heart clenches. “That wish. You’d want to go back in time to save him?”
“I never would have gone to that party with him.”
“Same. I’d save my parents.”
“There’s another thing I’d wish for…” His voice trails off, a guarded look flashing on his chiseled face.
He shakes his head. “Nah, never mind.”
“Tell me.” I cross my heart. “I promise I won’t tell anyone.”
He chews on his lush bottom lip and shrugs as he stares at the floor. “Alright. I’d wish for someone in my life who’s real, you know, not just some hanger-on, but someone who gets me.”
His head rises and our gazes lock as butterflies take off in my stomach.
Is this the real Dillon McQueen?
My heart pounds as the intimacy between us deepens, a sense of connection growing in the air. I decide that eye contact with him is a rollercoaster ride. One moment you’re at the top, about to lose your breath, and the next you’re soaring down a hill and clenching the railing.