I lift the foil pie tin out of the bag and place two forks beside it. Erika’s seated, her hands threaded together, wearing a smile that would make angels melt. Tongue-tied, I wordlessly slide the pie and one of the utensils in front of her. She’s tiny when she’s standing next to me and even smaller sitting down. Every protective instinct I have and about a hundred more that I didn’t realize existed rise up in my throat. There will never be a time anyone brings harm to even a hair on her head.
“What’s your schedule?” I ask.
She blinks twice, in the middle of shoveling a huge piece in her mouth. Damn. I wish I had ice cream. She licked that up like a cat at the restaurant. I almost came in my pants watching her. Her pink tongue sneaking out and swiping across her spoon will be all the material I need to whack off tonight.
“My schedule?” she finally answers after swallowing.
“Yeah.” She can’t be out there walking around this earth by herself. She’s too precious for that. A treasure like her needs constant protection. “Your student schedule. Like when do you get up in the morning”—and what do you look like? Is your hair mussed? Are your cheeks flushed? Do you smell like a sweet, warm body or something spicier?—“when do you leave your condo? Stuff like that?”
“Um, I usually get up early because I stretch and do some yoga. My classes start around ten, but we’re not in session yet. Monday’s the first day.”
Monday is basically tomorrow since it’s after midnight.
“Okay. I usually work out in the afternoon, but I’ll switch up my schedule. What do you want for breakfast?” I’m not a great cook. Hell, I’m not even a mediocre one, but I can buy a meal or ten. She tilts her head in confusion but answers, “Oatmeal.” Then she holds up her hand. “Wait. Why are you asking all these questions? Is Livvie paying for your bodyguard services? Because I don’t need them. I’m perfectly capable of taking care of myself.”
I swipe the fork from the plate and eat a piece of the pie. “Who’s Livvie?”
Erika takes the fork back immediately, scowls and says, “My roommate. The one who asked you to come and walk me home from the frat party.”
“I don’t know any Livvie. I did a favor for Zeke Audley because I owed him one.”
“Same thing.” She sets her fork down and gets to her feet. “Anyway, like I said, I don’t need protection. Thanks for everything.”
I can tell by her tight, fake smile that I’ve done something wrong, but fuck if I know what it is. What I do know is that she’s leaving, which is bad. Very, very bad. I glance at the pie which she was so happy about just five minutes ago. I scramble for the plastic bag. “What about your pie? Don’t you want to take it with you?”
“No. I don’t have a refrigerator.” Her hand is on the door.
I abandon the pie and jump toward the entryway. “Okay. Let me get my shoes on and I’ll walk you back to your dorm.”
“You don’t have to. It’s only across the street.”
Shoes? Who needs them? I let her open the door and follow her out. “A lot can happen on streets. Accidents, for instance. They happen on streets. A good 90 percent of all accidents happen on streets.”
She stops in the hallway. “Only 90 percent? Where do the other 10 percent occur?”
I cast around wildly for an answer to my made-up statistic. “Bathrooms,” I blurt out. “Ten percent of accidents happen in bathrooms and the other accidents all happen on the street.”
She narrows her eyes at me. “I feel like you’re making this up.”
I shake my head vigorously. “Nope. I learned it in health in high school.” I don’t even remember if I took health in high school.
“I see that there’s little I can do to convince you to stay home. You made that favor and you’re going to follow through, aren’t you?”
There’s something about the tone of her voice that makes me think I’m in dangerous territory. Ninety percent accident territory, but I don’t know why. Keeping promises is a good thing in my book. If you say you’re going to do something and you don’t follow through, you deserve to step on Legos. But I feel like if I say that, Erika’s going to be mad. For the hundredth time, I curse my inexperience with women. “I just want to walk you home,” I finally answer.
“Because of the accidents?”
“Yeah.” And because I want to spend more time with you and even if it’s only the space of a few minutes, it’s worth it. I don’t say those words out loud though, because we just met and even a dumbfuck like me knows that saying shit like that to a woman who is half your size and doesn’t know more than your full name will freak her out.