Page 16 of We Were Once

The lighter, more jovial side has disappeared, and the words of his mother come back to me—I hoped he could find inner peace and calm through some turbulent times. Now doesn’t seem like the time to ask him deeply personal questions, though I remain curious as to what happened. “I wanted to thank you for Frankie’s housewarming gifts.” Fine, I give into this silly mess. “She loves them.”

A smile more genuine than before appears. “I’m glad to hear.”

“She’d turn tricks with those leaves for a good misting.” I laugh. It’s his laughter that has the joy reaching my eyes as well. “So I guess it’s official. I’m part of the bonsai club.”

“Yale has one.”

“Slow down. Baby steps.”

He checks his watch, and says, “My break is ending soon. How about a lightning round of get-to-know-you questions?”

“I’m game. Can I go first?” When he nods, I ask, “Age?”

“Twenty-two next month. Age?”

“Twenty-one.” I don’t know why I lie. He’s given me no reason to, other than I don’t want him to treat me differently. People always do when they find out I skipped a year or can’t go to bars with them like I should be able to.

“We’re the same age—”

“Major?” I ask, moving past that topic as fast as I can.

“Economics. Premed for you?”

“Yes.” A joy fills my chest. Although I have all kinds of questions about his major, I go easy. “Favorite food?”

“Cooking or eating?”

I giggle. “Figures a chef would get that specific. How about both?”

“I’m a cook, not a chef. As for food: Eating—fresh caught catfish after a day on the lake. Cooking? Hmm . . .” He rubs his chin. “Maybe omelets. You can make them a million different ways. Kind of simple, I know, but it matches me, I guess.”

“I don’t find you simple at all.” The ball sort of drops, and I wish there were takebacks. But since it’s already out there, I follow up with, “I think you’re rather interesting, Joshua.”

“Enough to want to share another special someday?”

“Someday.” I can’t give in that easily. Where’s the challenge in that?

Pushing off the table, he stands and begins collecting the dishes. “I need to get back to work. The dinner crowd is already piling in.”

I look around, and despite a bell above the door, I never noticed the restaurant is now full. “Of course. I can leave money on the table.”

“Now why would I let you do that? This is a date, remember?” He punctuates it with a wink.

Looking down when my cheeks feel hot, I smile to myself. I peek up at him under my lashes. “I remember.”

When he takes the dishes, I slip my backpack back on. It gets lighter, so I turn around to find him adjusting it. “Don’t want to hurt your back carrying all those books around. Not sure if you know . . .” His tone drips in sarcasm. “But everything you need is online these days. You don’t actually have to carry books.”

“And here, I was starting to think I wouldn’t get another of your smart-ass comments. Thanks for coming through for me.”

Snickering, he replies, “You’re welcome.”

I start for the door and notice him behind me. “It’s okay. I can see myself out.”

His shoulders hit the bottom of his ears. “Yeah, no worries. I was just coming to get fresh air.”

“Ah. Right.” I laugh. On the sidewalk, I stop awkwardly, looking down the street, and then turn back to him. “So, I’m going. Thanks for dinner.” I have no idea what I’m doing, which seems to be a running theme when I’m with him. But I do it anyway. “You know how you told me to tell Frankie hi?”

The laugh rumbles through his chest as he runs his thumb over a plush lower lip. “Yeah.”

“I didn’t.”

“Why not?”

“I was thinking you could tell her yourself sometime.”

He tries so hard to restrain his smile and fails. I’m fairly certain it’s the only thing he fails at. “I could do that. I’d have to check my schedule. Maybe I can give you my number, and you can send me a text sometime.”

“Absolutely. Frankie will love the visit.” I pull my phone out and hand it to him.

As he types, he says, “Anything for Frankie.” When he hands my phone back to me, he pulls his from his pocket with my number flashing on the screen. “Hope you don’t mind me sending a text to myself. Now, I have your number.”

“Text me the specials.” I start to back away in the opposite direction, and say, “You never did tell me about that happy ending.”

“Like I said, it’s something I have to show you.”

“Maybe next time.”

He reaches for the door. “You got it.”

I don’t know why my feet feel like they’re full of lead, but every step I take is painful. My phone buzzes in my hand with a message from him: I forgot to tell you something.

Tags: S.L. Scott Romance