“Get away,” she said in a thick voice, and motioned down the street.
With a quick smile and a nod, since I’d gotten what I came for, I turned away from the shop. Off in the distance was William, checking out my scooter, tugging on the lock as if to verify that my ride was indeed safe. It was. It was as safe as the second I’d left it. Which gave me another minute or two to send in the shot. I grabbed my laptop, downloaded the photos, and hit send as he walked back to me with a curious, but knowing look on his face.
He pointed to my laptop, then to my knee, then my scraped hands.
“Seems I made one.”
“Your scooter’s safe.”
“So’s my job. For today at least.”
“You played me,” he said, but he didn’t sound mad. He sounded impressed.
“It worked,” I said, pride suffusing my tone. “But the scrapes are real.”
“Yeah, I feel terrible. Shall I go hunt down a Band-Aid for you now? Oh wait. You carry them with you. You’re always prepared.”
“You never know when you might have to take a fall to be first,” I said, and rooted around in the front pocket of my backpack for a Band-Aid. I found one, peeled off the wrapping, and started to press it onto my palm.
“Let me help,” he said in a soft voice, laying the ends of the Band-Aid onto my skin. He stepped closer, his body now officially in the zone of supreme nearness—the zone that would allow for hands to explore chests, and arms to be wrapped around necks, and lips to lock again. I held my breath. My hands tingled under his touch. “This is the part in the script where the reformed bad boy touches the heroine for the second time,” he whispered.
I wanted to close my eyes and linger in the moment. But I had to be stoic. I couldn’t say what I wanted to say. That this was the moment when the heroine’s skin raced from the barest touch. So I lied. “This is the part where the heroine doesn’t even notice.”
He raised an eyebrow. He held my gaze. I didn’t look away in enough time. My breath caught, and my lips were parted. “Hi,” he whispered in a voice that was getting under my skin.
“Hi,” I said against my better judgment, against my brain.
“Are we still on for the movie tomorrow?”
“You’re just asking me out because I’m the competition, right? Keep your friends close and your enemies closer?”
“I’m asking because I want to go out with you. Not because you’re the enemy.”
I scoffed. “At least you admitted I’m the enemy. That’s why you’re asking me.”
He raised his hand, reaching gently for a strand of my hair. My feet felt wobbly with him so near to me. The earth was suddenly operating at a bizarre angle. I pressed my palm against the brick wall behind me to steady myself as he ran a finger along my hair. So softly. “I swear,” he whispered, pinning me with his gaze. “I truly want to see the movie with you. Say you’re still going with me.”
Wanting to believe him, but knowing better, I grabbed onto that kernel of self-restraint, and slipped away from him. “I don’t know. I need to stay focused on school and work,” I admitted.
“What about now? Do you want to hang out? Get a bite to eat? Are you done with classes for the day?”
I nodded. “Yes, but I have a quiz tomorrow morning in my advanced bio class.”
“Yeah. A quiz.”
“I bet you’ve been studying for days, right? Weeks, even? You’re probably way ahead?”
I begrudgingly nodded. “Yes,” I admitted. I knew the material cold. This morning’s question in my advanced bio class reaffirmed how ready I was.
“Okay, so the quiz isn’t really an issue. Since I know you don’t like food, do you want to go get a pedicure, Jess?”
“I do my own nails. So unless you’re the one getting a pedicure…” I said, letting my voice trail off, figuring that would keep him at bay. Guys didn’t get pedicures. The ones that did usually didn’t like girls. I started to walk away.
“I’ll get a pedicure if you come with me,” he offered, and I stopped in my tracks because William was going toe-to-toe with me without blinking an eye. “Think of it as work.”
“As long as I can pick your color,” I said, because I could play this game of brinkmanship, too.
“Have at it.”
He was calling me on my bluff. I didn’t intend to get called on, so we walked into a shop called Daisy Nails that was painted a bright shade of yellow, and I headed straight for the bottles to choose the one best for him.
She surveyed the colors in the rack on the wall, a smirk on her face. “Hmm, I could see you as an orange.”