Chapter Six

WHEN SHE REACHES ME, Dakota immediately wraps her arms around my neck and pulls me to her. Our embrace lasts a few beats longer than usual, and when she pulls away, she leans her head on my arm. She’s nearly a foot shorter than me, though I always liked to tease that her hair, that wild mass of curls, adds four inches onto her driver’s license stats.

Her nose is red and her hair is particularly wild. It’s not cold yet, but it’s windy and air off the nearby East River adds a chill. She’s not dressed for the fall weather; in fact, she’s not wearing much of anything. I’m not complaining.

“What are you doing over on this side of the tracks?” I ask.

She lives in Manhattan, yet this is the second time I’ve seen her in Brooklyn this week.

“Running. Crossed the Manhattan Bridge, then just kept trucking.” Her eyes meet mine and then quickly dart to my forehead. “What the hell happened to your face?” Her fingers press against my skin and I wince.

“It’s a long story.” I touch over the sensitive spot with my fingers and feel the knot next to the cut.

“Did you get in a street brawl on the way here?” she teases, and a tingling blossoms in my chest, me missing her even though she’s standing right here.

There’s no way in hell I’m telling her what actually happened to my head. Or my knee. Gah, I feel like such a creep now that she’s in front of me and I think of her every time I make myself come.

“Not quite.” I shake my head and continue: “I fell in the shower. But I like your version better. Definitely makes me sound cooler.” I chuckle, looking down at her.

My answer humors her and she bounces on the heels of her bright pink Nikes. The yellow check mark on her shoes matches her sports bra and the pink matches her tiny, tiny shorts.

“So what are you up to? Do you want to get a coffee or something?” she asks.

Her eyes dart across the street and she stares at the couple I saw earlier. Their hands are intertwined as they trot down the streets of Brooklyn. It’s a romantic sight, him wrapping his coat around her shoulders, leaning down to kiss her hair.

Dakota looks back up at me and I wish I could hear what’s going on inside her head. Does she miss me? Does seeing that couple happy and holding hands make her want my affection?

She wants to hang out with me now—what does that mean? I have absolutely nothing to do, but I probably should act like I have somewhat of a life outside of school and work.

“I have some free time now.” I shrug my shoulders and she loops her arm through mine and leads the way. During the walk, I try to compile a list of normal conversation starters that would be nearly impossible to make come out awkward. I say “nearly” because if anyone has a talent for turning normal situations uncomfortable, it’s me.

The walk to Starbucks is only a couple of blocks, but Dakota has been next to silent the entire time. Something is off with her, I can tell.

“Are you cold?” I ask. I should have asked her earlier. She has to be cold, she’s barely dressed.

She looks up at me, and her Rudolph nose gives her away even though she’s shaking her head.

“Here.” I gently pull away from her and pull my sweatshirt up over my head and hand it to her.

It cuts me a little when she smells the gray fabric, just like she always used to. She was obsessed with wearing my hoodies when we were in high school. I had to buy one every other week to keep up with her thieving ways.

“You still wear Spicebomb,” she says, not asking.

She bought me my first bottle of cologne for our first Christmas together and one every year after.

“Yep. Some things never change.” I watch as she pulls my sweatshirt down over her. Her curls push through first and I help yank the fabric down over her mass of hair. The sweatshirt hits her just at her knees.

She looks down at the design printed on the front.