“It’s, uh, like your tattoo.”
“I know,” I murmur. “Why?”
“Can’t a guy just get a girl a gift?”
“Sure.” No. It’s personal.
He takes a deep breath, gearing up. “You said it symbolized hope and happiness for you, so I thought, um, you know, that I’d give you something you could see everyday…since your tattoo is on your nape. Does that make sense? I mean, I guess you could just pull your hair up and look in the mirror if you needed a reminder.” He scrubs his face. “Anyway. The girl who sold it to me said you could wear it on a necklace or a bracelet, or you can just stick it in a drawer.”
“It’s so delicate. I don’t have anything to put it on…”
“See… I fucked up.” He exhales heavily.
“No, no, you didn’t. It’s beautiful and means a lot—especially because of our conversation. You remembered. Thank you.”
We stare at each other, the moment stretching under the streetlights. He looks away. “Seeing Sawyer and Bambi kiss was spectacular.”
“Watching them try to figure out where to put their arms…” I laugh. “Then we timed them.”
“Sixty seconds is a long kiss.” His eyes hold mine. “We can beat that record.”
My heart skips a beat. “Yeah.”
“They hooked up freshman year.” He moves closer, the smell of him making me sigh. He tilts my chin up. “He’s got a thing for her.”
My head is not thinking about Sawyer and Bambi.
“Fact: lips have more nerve endings than most of the body. People remember kissing more vividly than sex.”
“I read it somewhere. Can’t recall…” I stop as his nose runs up my neck.
“You nervous, Serena?”
“Good. I am too. You make me feel…” His hand slides around my nape, drifting over my tattoo. “Like I don’t know which way is up.” He brushes his lips over mine. Long and soft and thorough, he kisses me, his tongue lazily teasing. It goes on for longer than sixty seconds as he presses me against my car. Desire rushes at me like a whip and I sigh as he pulls away. My chest rises rapidly.
His eyes search my face. “You’re really going home?”
“I need to check Romy’s calculus homework.”
Maybe… Yes. I’m just not ready. This, whatever it is, is hurtling toward me like a whirlwind. I’ve done that before, and it blew up in my face.
“Let me follow you then.”
He puts his fingers on my lips. “I just want to make sure you’re okay.”
“My neighborhood isn’t that bad.”
“No, it isn’t that.” He pauses. “I like knowing you’re safe. Even the night at the Pig…just… I haven’t always watched after people…” He frowns.
He sticks his hands in the pockets of his jeans. “Yeah. He died on my watch. I think he dove off that cliff because he wanted my approval, you know? He wanted to impress me and my friends.”
Guilt about his brother plagues him. He’s internalized that pain and therefore does acts of service. Maybe it’s his way of saying he cares? Not that he cares for me. This heat between us is about sexual attraction. Right?
But this soft side of him… It gets to me. He isn’t the nothing-bothers-me pretty boy people see.
I open my door. “Alright. Follow me home, and when I get inside, I’ll blink the lights at you.”
A rush of anxiety hits me as I gaze down at the charm in my hand. What possesses a man to buy a meaningful gift for a girl he barely knows? I look back up at him. “Dillon?”
“Don’t hurt me.” I don’t know why I say it. It’s not appropriate considering we’re not dating or even hooking up, yet there’s a niggling feeling in my gut.
His eyes widen. “Never. I promise.”
Later, I’d remember his lie.15I’m coming to the LSU game, is the text from my dad the next day when I step out of the shower after practice. I sit down on my bed, trying to decipher how I feel about it. Is his new family coming? I rub my chest. Hope trickles in, a sliver of excitement.
I reply back, Looking forward to it. At least someone will be there.
A few minutes later, my phone pings with a text from Serena. When’s your birthday?
I smile and lie back on the bed. October 23rd. You?
My eyes flare. STFU.
Ha, just messing with you. February 14.
An image comes through the text, a picture of her at a coffee shop. She’s drinking a latte, and there’s a smudge of cream on her lips. Wait—who’s the other coffee on the table for?
Who are you with?
WBBJ guy. Neil. We had classes together back in the day. Discussing football.
My lips compress. I haven’t missed the way he’s been gazing at her during the games. I can help you if you need it.
Maybe. What do you love about football?
Ah, I get it. She isn’t texting to talk. This is about her story. I’ll tell you in person. Come see me or let’s meet.