By the time the seventh date leaves—yes, I’m counting—I’m bored out of my head and ready to jump across the partition and dash for my car.
The next guy walks in and sits as I put my phone away.
“Hey.” His voice is low and deep, like silk over steel, and I’m instantly at attention, prickles of awareness skating down my spine.
“Hey,” I reply.
There’s a beat of silence, and it goes on too long. I shift in my chair as I glance down at his shoes: orange Converse. Nah, no way.
I clear my throat. “Um, first off, I’m in grad school. What year are you?”
His leg moves, stretching out. “Senior.” His tone has changed, more alert. “What’s your favorite color?”
I sigh. “Do we really have to do those?”
“What color?” he insists.
“Blue? I’ve never thought about it. Yours?”
“You say tomato, I say Bloody Mary.”
“Funny. I like those. Do you put bacon in your Bloody Mary?”
“With cheese and peppers. Give me all the spices.”
I relax back in the chair. “Ever eat the celery?”
“Most vile thing to land on my tongue.”
I laugh under my breath. “Fun fact: celery stalks can reach over three feet.”
Another long pause. Then, “I’m picturing one coming to life and grabbing me with stringy arms.”
“Me too. Terrifying, right?”
“Hmm. Almost as scary as running through the woods in the dark.”
My breath hitches, and I swallow as nerves hit. I can’t think of a single original question, so I resort to the list. “Um, let’s see…biggest fear?”
The silence builds. I squirm. It’s him, it is… Does he know it’s me? Bambi and Chantal either didn’t know he was here or told a whopper of a lie.
“Hello?” I inquire.
“Creatures with wings, I guess. Birds, chickens. They freak me out. When I was a kid, my brother got pecked by a cardinal. Scared the heck out of me.” He lets out a small laugh.
He scoffs. “Ever see a hawk eat a cute chipmunk? I have.”
“I see. What are you looking for in a girl you date?”
My lungs squeeze as he shifts closer, his other leg stretching out. I can almost picture how tall he is, trying to get comfortable in the small chair. “Someone different from everyone else.”
“She won’t care about my talent.”
“What’s your talent?”
A pause. “Lacrosse.”
My breath snags. “I, um, hear it’s a complicated game.”
He hesitates. “Yeah, there’s a…stick with a net on the end.”
Oh, really… “I believe it’s called a pocket.”
“Like I said, you say tomato—”
“I say salsa.”
He laughs. “Anyway, my girl, I’ll want to give her things, gifts, maybe a shirt with my name on it—is that stupid?”
“No,” I whisper.
“She’ll care about people, especially her family. She’ll be fiery, a little terror at times. She’ll like my friends. She’ll listen to me when I tell her my secrets.”
“You have secrets?”
“I keep things close. She’ll be the kind of girl who likes yoga. Fun fact: yoga is good for loosening your pelvic muscles—in surprising ways.”
“What about you? Who’s your perfect date?”
I bite my lip as my mind fills with images of Dillon running with me through the woods, using me as a decoy, laughing when I shot Bullseye, laughing again when I shot Troy, not getting pissy when I shot him. “He’s the kind of guy who doesn’t give up on me, even when I’m not sure which way to turn.”
My head goes back to our last conversation at the airport. “I want him to leave his ego at the door and not care that I have a whole set of baggage. I’ve been through a bad relationship, and I’ve learned hard lessons. Caring for someone, putting yourself out there… It’s like a beautiful butterfly in your hand. If you hold really still and try to do everything right, it might stay, but you’re going to flinch, and when you do, it might fly away.” I stare down at my hands. “I sacrificed pieces of myself for him, gave up friends, family, goals. I can’t do that again.”
Tension tumbles into the room, the sound of his breaths low, yet I’m tuned in, counting them. I hear him ease forward, closer to the partition. “Je promets d’être bon avec toi.”
I promise to be good to you.
“Serena…” His voice is rough.
The room feels hot, and I inhale. “You scare me, Dillon.”
He pauses as if searching for the right words. “What if you stop being afraid of how it ends and enjoy the ride? Nothing is certain. Life is fleeting. I lost a brother, a biological father, grandparents. It changes a person, and you get it. People see me as some kind of, I don’t know, hotshot guy, but deep down there’s only a few things I want: football, my dad’s approval, and someone authentic. We had sex. Okay, acknowledged. It was amazing, so what the hell are we doing now?”
My fists curl at his fevered words. I take a deep breath, processing.