Page 15 of We Were Once

I have two things to list myself.

Joshua just confessed he likes me.

I said we’re on a date, and I know he’s about to have a field day with that slip of the tongue.

Now I’m holding the table for an entirely new reason—to brace myself for the verbal onslaught heading my way. Not really. I shovel soup in my mouth instead.

Leaning back with a self-satisfied grin, he says, “Don’t worry, Chloe,” dragging out that e again with a drawl that’s definitely not from around these parts. “Whether I like you or not, I always leave my dates happy.”

The spoon drops from my hand, clanging against the bowl and landing on the placemat. The ruckus earns unwanted attention. Waiting it out, I cross my arms over my chest, trying to level that smirk into smithereens. “Do I even want to know what that means?”

“Trust me. You want to know.”

There’s so much conviction in his tone that I’m starting to believe him. Before I get too wrapped up in my imagination, I ask, “What exactly does this happy ending consist of?”

“Would you like me to show you?”

“No. We’re not on a date. That was a slip on my part.” Waving between us, I give in just a little because his ego may be the most dominant part, but I kind of like the other side he shows me every now and again. “I wasn’t looking for a friend, but for some reason, I find you, when not utterly incorrigible, mildly entertaining.”

As if he just won the lottery, his whole expression changes as that ego is fed once again. “It’s probably best if we’re only friends.”

“Why is that?”

“I don’t think you could handle—”

“Your ego.”

“You’re so fixated on my ego. But by how you walk around studying like you’re above it all—”

“I study all the time because I have to. How much do you study?” Maybe, I cut him off again, but he knows exactly how to push my buttons.

His silence keeps me fixated on him, the way he suddenly appears to want an out, has my curiosity going wild. No shame covers his face, and he doesn’t seem to be searching for an excuse. Then it dawns on me. My mouth falls open as I find fault in my own abilities in direct comparison. “Oh, my God. Tell me you have to study. That you do it every minute you’re not in class or at work.”

The tilt of his head sends strands falling in his eyes. That’s when I notice he’s not wearing a cap like he was when I walked in. I swear his shirt was blue, but now it’s red. Occasionally, I get a whiff of the clean scent of soap, and considering he’s a cook, he almost appears freshly showered. Like, maybe, he was hoping I’d come in tonight. Maybe.

Stroking my hands over my head, I pull the elastic from my hair and collect all the loose strands. All the while, we’re looking at each other as though we’re more than friends. I hadn’t noticed my heart beating so heavily in my chest or that my breathing had shallowed—until now—and the beat’s so loud that he might hear.

In the strangest turnabout, I’ve gone from feeling defeat from being outdone collegiately to feeling alive from his proximity. Dipping my hands to my yoga pants, I slide my clammy palms down the tops of my thighs.

“I wouldn’t say I have a photographic memory since I haven’t been officially tested, but I wouldn’t say that I don’t either.”

Why are his lips suddenly the most fascinating thing about today?

I don’t know if I hate myself for suddenly finding him so attractive or should congratulate myself for sitting through this meal. I take a few more bites of soup to ponder this precarious situation. “I have to work for every grade. My memory isn’t bad, but I wish it were better.”

“Whatever you’re thinking, and it seems like there’s a lot by how tight your grip is on that spoon, don’t discount me.”

“Discount you? I’m envious. Maybe if I didn’t have to study so much, I could get the life everyone tells me I’m missing out on.”

“It seems you already know what you’re missing. Now, it’s just a matter of doing something about it.” Resting his forearms on the table, he asks, “What are you going to do about it?”

I like to think that I’m quick on my feet with the correct textbook answer to anything. Short of going to finishing school, I can make small talk with the best of society. But when someone asks about me, I’m blank. “I don’t know,” I answer honestly.

“That’s okay. We’re young. We have time to figure it out.”

We? I distinctly caught a we in there. “Said like someone who knows exactly who he is.”

“Said like someone who had no choice but to grow up fast.”

Tags: S.L. Scott Romance