“You really didn’t have to buy the whole pie,” Erika says quietly as we walk toward her dorm.
The white takeout bag swings by my side. “It’s late and they would’ve thrown it out.”
Her simple acceptance makes me smile. Again. I lift the heel of my hand and press it under my cheekbone. My face feels sore. I’m not used to smiling—or laughing, for that matter. Not much in my life to be giggly about.
“Did you hurt yourself?”
My hand drops away and I peer down at Erika, who doesn’t come up much higher than my pecs. Am I hurt? Not right now, but I suspect that she could turn me into dust with a wave of her delicate pinky finger. “Nah.” I can’t really explain that my cheeks hurt because she made me happy. Even with my limited experience with women, I can figure that out. We just met. Although…we ate something. Does that qualify as a date? If dinner was a date, should I be holding her hand? Fuck. I scrub my hand through my buzz cut. I should’ve paid more attention in high school to whatever the fuck my classmates did with the opposite sex instead of looking for fight clubs.
I sneak a glance toward Erika again. Her beautiful face is serene, as if she’s at peace with the world, which is great. Love that for her, but what the fuck does it mean as it relates to the dinner? Is she happy? If we were on a date, wouldn’t she be nervous like me? My stomach’s in so much turmoil I might barf up my food and I never do that. Barf, I mean.
She’s not frowning, though, and I bought her pie. Maybe the pie thing would make up for not knowing if we’re on a date. Oh, hell, I hate this. I’m just going to ask her.
“So is this a date?”
“A what?” She abruptly stops and stares at me.
“Nothing. Nothing.” I wave my hands, the pie bag spinning around my fingers. “I said do you need a plate?”
She squints. “For the pie?”
I nod vigorously. “Yeah, the pie. Do you need a plate? We could stop somewhere and pick some up. Like a store. Or my condo. I have plates in my condo.”
Jesus, fuck, I sound like a goddamned idiot. I slam my lips shut and commence walking again. One thing I learned in boxing is that everyone has a strength. Some people have quick feet. Some people are good punchers. You gotta play to that strength in order to win. The thing is, though, I’m a sad sack of shit when it comes to dating. I’ve never really dated my entire life. I haven’t wanted to. Women that are attracted to me are a distraction, a nuisance. They’re always up in my business, wanting sex, wanting money, wanting attention. I don’t have time for that. And now, fuck, it’s not like I regret not dating, but if I had dated a little bit, maybe I would know what to do here. Maybe I wouldn’t feel like I have two left feet and bear paws instead of hands.
“I can eat the pie from the box. I don’t mind.” She takes the pie bag from me and smiles.
I melt into a puddle of goo at her feet.
“This is my dorm.” She waves a hand behind her.
“So close.” I blow out a frustrated breath.
She cocks her head. “What was that?”
“I said my voice is hoarse.” I slap my neck. “I was throat punched the other day and the cold air is making it ache.”
“Oh my goodness. That’s awful.” Her hand reaches up and brushes across my skin.
My cock turns rock hard in an instant and unintelligible sounds climb up my throat.
“Wow. You sound terrible. Maybe you should come inside and I can make you some honey water. I know singers sometimes drink that before concerts.”
I’m so stunned I can’t form words. She wants me to come up to her dorm room and make me something to drink? My mind shuts down in excitement and all I can do is nod eagerly. I hold the door open while she walks into the dorm complex. The lights are on in the entryway and there’s a sleepy-eyed student sitting at a desk.
“No guys after ten,” she snaps.
“Oh, I didn’t know.” Erika shrinks against me.
My arm comes up automatically, like it has a mind of its own, and curves around her shoulder. I straighten to my full height and face the girl at the desk. “You didn’t have to shout at her. She didn’t know.”
The girl’s head comes up, but whatever she is about to say melts on her tongue. Her jaw drops and her eyes grow big. I sigh inside. Not again. I know this look. I hate it. It’s the one that’s always followed by “What’s your number?” and “You look like a whole daddy,” whatever the hell that means.