“Your hair. How do you get it to stick up like that?”
“I have a clip.” She flips up the small bun and reveals a doo-dad about the same color as her hair.
Impressed, I nod. “Wow. I feel like I’ve just been let into a secret society.”
She nudges me with her shoulder, a move that may have been designed to knock me off balance, but since I weigh a good hundred pounds more than her, it feels like a love pat.
“Tonight, are you going to dance?”
“Probably.” She rubs one small foot against the side of her leg.
“Mind if I come?”
I noticed she goes late at night, when no one else is around. I can’t see much from outside the studio—mostly shadows and stuff. It’s a turn-on.
“I don’t usually let anyone see me dance,” she shares quietly. “But you can come if you want.”
“I want. How come you don’t want anyone seeing you dance?”
“I’m not as good as I used to be.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” We step into the elevator.
She gestures toward her leg. “It means that before I broke this, I was pretty amazing. I won contests and stuff. But afterwards, I didn’t have the strength and my ability declined. I dance for pleasure now only. Not for an audience.”
“I don’t have to come inside.”
She considers it. “No. I want you to. I know you won’t judge me.”
“Anyone who would judge you is living a miserable life.” I bring her hand to my lips. “I appreciate you letting me in. I know it means something.”
When we get off the elevator, the body in the middle of the floor has been cleared away. The hall monitor stares at me with a narrowed, suspicious eye. I wave and smile and she falls off her chair.
“You probably shouldn’t do that,” Erika informs me.
“I guess not.” It’s not the first time some girl has tripped when I’m around. I don’t really know why though. I shake my head in confusion.
“You’re a menace,” Erika says.
“How so?” I hold the door open so she can walk outside.
“You really don’t know how attractive you are, do you? The girl fell off her chair because you smiled at her.”
“Nah.” I hang my arm around Erika’s shoulders. “It was probably you and how good your tight ass looks in those yoga pants.”
“You’re wrong, but I’m not going to argue. I like that you’re blissfully ignorant.”
I help her into my truck. “About what?”
“Nothing.” She smirks and then leans over to pop a surprise kiss on my lips. Whatever we were discussing flies out of my brain.
“Oh no you don’t,” I tell her. I grab her hips and step between her legs. “If you’re going to kiss me, do it right.”
I angle my mouth over hers and pillage her for a good five minutes until she’s breathless, flushed and her hair is somewhere around her ass. “Sorry about your bun,” I say without a hint of apology in my voice.
She smiles as she does up her hair again. “I don’t think you are.”
“I’m not,” I admit.
On the way to the gym, she asks about my boxing.
“When I was young, I would go into rages. It got me kicked out of the house and then out of a couple foster homes before I got placed at Patty’s. She introduced me to Morry, a trainer, and that was that.”
“You’ll like her. She’s like a second mom to me.”
“A woman trainer is unusual, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, I guess.” Morry’s suffered a lot of discrimination. “But we’re winning. So the gym’s growing and people are interested. Plus, she gets press from it. If you ever get tired of dancing at the theatre studio on campus, you could do it here. We have mirrors. No bar though. And no wood floor,” I add, doing a mental tour of the place. “Okay, maybe it’s a shit place for dancing, but we could add on.” I really like this idea. I could invest some of my prize money in expanding the place. A dance studio could be nice. As I pull into the driveway, I spot a few cars. Erika’s shy, so I explain, “There’s a couple guys and girls training this morning.”
“I don’t want to be in the way.”
“You won’t be. I know Morry’s going to want to meet you.”
And after Morry’s done, then I’ll have to take her out to see Patty, otherwise I won’t hear the end of it about being a bad son.
“So you decided to show up after all,” Morry snarks when I walk in.
“I brought something important,” I declare. “A treasure.”
I suddenly feel a bout of shyness strike me as we approach the other woman. I’m thankful that people don’t call this man Tank for no reason. His size makes it easy for me to hide behind him. He could be my own personal shield. Tank seems so proud to show me off, but my parental insecurities run deep inside me. It was clear by the way Tank talked about Morry that she wasn’t only a trainer to him. She’s a mother figure in his life. She’s important to him. In the short time I’ve gotten to know Tank, I do know when he cares about something that he’s all in.