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The Unexpected Way of Falling in Love, Page 12

Jessica Sorensen

  “I do.” She tosses the keys onto the kitchen counter. “And from what I’ve seen, he seems like a gentleman.” She opens the fridge and grabs a bottle of water. “He’s always held the door open whenever I’m going into the house. He’s helped me carry in my supplies a bunch of times, too. And unlike his mother and father, he’s never talked down to me.”

  All I can do is stare at her in shock. “Are you sure you’re thinking of the right guy?”

  She nods, unscrewing the cap off the water bottle. “I’ve been cleaning the Everlend’s place for almost five years now, so unless they have another blond-haired, eighteen-year-old son, I know who Carter is.” She lifts the bottle to her lips to take a drink, then pauses. “Why do you seem so surprised by what I’m telling you? If you’re going on a date with him, you should think he’s a nice guy.”

  I cross my fingers I don’t look as guilty as I feel. “I do think he’s a good guy.” God, I suck. “I just didn’t realize he did all that stuff for you.”

  And if he did, why did he make that remark about the cleaning lady needing to clean up the oil in the garage. He was so rude then, so none of what my mom is saying makes sense.

  “He’s a really sweet guy.” She takes a sip of her water then sets the bottle down on the counter. “So, what are you wearing tonight? And where is he taking you? I want all the details!” She claps her hands together, gushing again.

  Me, I’m left feeling lost. Like I’m falling.

  Falling into the unknown.

  And soon, I’m going to crash.

  Eighteen

  Ensley

  The ding of the doorbell causes vomit to burn at the back of my throat.

  Not a good start at all.

  Then my hands begin to sweat and my pulse hammers like a unicorn on crack. I want to lock myself in the closet. No, scratch that. I want to puke, and then lock myself in the closet.

  “Ens, Carter’s here,” my mom announces, sending my pulse spiking even more.

  “Okay!” I shout down the hallway then rush over to the mirror on my bedroom wall.

  Not to check my reflection—I look how I always do and don’t need to double-check that I somehow miraculously changed. I’m just making sure I haven’t done anything stupid, like forgot to put on shoes or tucked my dress into my underwear.

  Once I’m satisfied that my feet are covered and my ass isn’t on display, I head out into the living room.

  Carter is standing in the small area near the door, smiling at something my mom is saying. He’s wearing a nice pair of jeans, boots, and a black, short-sleeved shirt that fits him perfectly. Strangely, he has leather bands on his wrists, which isn’t the normal, preppy look he usually sports. His blond hair is also styled a little bit messy tonight, but in an intentional way, and the scruff on his chin has grown a little bit more. His whole get-up is strange and strays from his usual style. Still, he looks good. Too good, since this is supposed to be a fake date that I’m controlling.

  One thing still remains the same. That smile he so frequently rocks. That confident smile. The one that makes my stomach flutter and churn at the same time. He’s doing it right now, and I can’t stand it, because I like it.

  I like it a lot.

  Instead of announcing my entry, I linger near the hallway, attempting to chill out my insane lunatic of a heart.

  Carter quickly notices me there, and his eyes sweep up and down my body.

  Suddenly, that smile fades.

  Lovely. Did I do something stupid, like overdress? Wait! I didn’t double-check to make sure I didn’t put any of my clothes on inside out.

  “You look …” He massages the back of his neck with an undecided expression. “Good.”

  “Um, thanks?” I say more as a question because he seems confused and I don’t get why. Or maybe I do and I just don’t want to admit it.

  He’s having second thoughts about this whole date thing, isn’t he? He probably realized he’s about to go out with a girl who looks like a guy.

  My mood nosedives. But hey, on a positive note, at least I no longer have to be a big old liar, liar, pants on fire.

  My mom glances from me to Carter, a huge smile possessing her face. She gives me a knowing look, like she’s trying to imply something. And in that moment, I question my mom’s sanity. Can’t she see how much Carter doesn’t want to be here? Why is she smiling!

  Crazy woman.

  “So, are you ready to go?” Carter focuses on my eyes, and he smiles. Just like that.

  It’s not the fucking smile that drives all the girls crazy, though. It’s an apprehensive smile, as if he’s suddenly lost some of his confidence. Which makes no sense and goes against everything I thought I knew about him, which leaves me apprehensive. Yep, it’s a vicious cycle.

  Somehow through the sea of confusion sloshing around in my brain, I do manage to nod. “Yep, I’m ready.” Then I smile. It’s totally fake, and I’m sure I look insane, but I give myself mad props for being able to do it while I’m fluttering with anxiousness.

  “You guys have fun,” my mom says as we’re walking out. Then she takes out her phone and snaps a photo of us, like I’m going to freakin’ prom.

  “Don’t post that,” I warn, shooting her a warning look.

  “Okay,” she says through a smile.

  Yeah, she’s totally going to post it.

  I don’t have time to argue with her, so I let her be and follow Carter out of the apartment.

  The sun is starting to set behind the shallow hills that surround the town, the sky grey and lightly dusted with stars. The air is the perfect temperature, not too hot and not too chilly. It’d be the perfect night except 1). I’m on a fake date, trying to play a player. 2). My palms are moist from nervous sweat, so yeah, yuck. And 3). Carter and I haven’t said a damn word to each other and we’re almost to his car.

  Fan-freakin’-tastic. I wonder if the night is going to turn into one big awkward fest.

  Then he finally speaks.

  “You look gorgeous,” he says as we’re heading toward the carport.

  I startle, not only because of the sudden crack in the awkward silence, but because he lightly traces his finger along the inside of my wrist. And like the spaz I am, I jump from the contact.

  Yep, great start, indeed.

  “Thanks,” I manage to mutter, coming to a stop in front of his car.

  “I mean it.” He digs his keys out from his pocket. “You look gorgeous. I mean, you always do, but …” He gives me a once-over, and then blinks a few times. “But tonight, you look extra gorgeous.”

  Not knowing what else to say, I sputter the first thing that pops into my mind. “Does that mean I get extra bonus points?”

  Face palm.

  He grins, no longer seeming nervous. “What sort of extra bonus points?”

  I shrug, feeling like an idiot. “I don’t know. Just bonus points I can use for anything.”

  “Anything?” He muses, rubbing his scruffy jawline. “That sounds sort of risky on my part.”

  “I wouldn’t use them for anything bad.” I slowly start to break through my awkwardness, even managing a tiny smile.

  “Well, that’s a disappointment,” he teases with a grin and a wink.

  It takes me a moment to get past the wink and fully become aware of what he said. Then my cheeks flush. Luckily, it’s dark enough that he can’t see it.

  A smile lights up his face. “You’re cute when you blush.”

  Okay, maybe not.

  “I’m not blushing,” I say, attempting to cover up my loserville status.

  “Liar,” he teases. “You’re blushing, and it’s cute, so stop arguing, okay?” He makes his way to the passenger side of the car. “Honestly, I’ve never been around a girl who blushes so much. Most of them just giggle. A lot. It’s fucking annoying.” He unlocks the car and opens the door. Then he stands there, holding the door open for me, backing up what my mom said about him being a gentleman.

  Thrown off by the way
he’s acting, I end up tripping over my own feet and nearly fall flat on my face. My hands dart out, and I manage to grab something to brace the fall. And by something, I mean Carter’s arms. I also step on his toes.

  Super.

  “I’m so sorry,” I sputter as I start to move back. “I’m such a klutz. Seriously, my mom’s always saying I have two left feet. I think she might be on to something.”

  He grasps my arms, helping me get my balance. “I’ve noticed that about you, too, but I think it’s cute.”

  “Ugh,” I gripe. “You can’t think everything I do is cute.”

  Jesus, how much does he watch me? First the photo and now this?

  He chuckles, skimming his fingers up and down my arms. “The only way that’ll ever be possible is if you stop doing things that are cute.”

  Goose bumps sprout across my flesh from his touch. “I’m trying not to, but you just keep saying I am.”

  “That’s because you are.”

  “Are not.”

  “Are.”

  “Not.”

  He giggles. And no, I’m not shitting you. He full-on giggles, like a girl. And even though I don’t want to, I find it cute. Ridiculously cute.

  “Now, that’s cute,” I tease, wanting the upper hand in this game. At least, I think it’s a game. It’s becoming harder and harder to tell with every surprise and cute remark he throws at me.

  His laughter fades into confusion. “What is?”

  I grin. “That little giggling thing you just did.”

  He narrows his eyes at me, but his lips threaten to turn upward. “I don’t giggle. I laugh. Like a man.”

  “If you say so.”

  “I do say so.”

  “Okay.”

  His eyes narrow to slits. “Stop that.”

  “Stop what?” I ask innocently. “I’m agreeing with you.”

  “Yeah, but in a teasing tone.”

  “Yeah, so? You use a teasing tone all the time.”

  “Only when I’m teasing.”

  “Exactly.”

  “Wait? What?” He smiles, seeming a bit lost.

  “I win.” I really don’t know that I did. Honestly, I feel lost myself. In this conversation. In the way he keeps smiling at me. In the way he keeps tracing his fingers up and down my arm.

  Remember the point of all this!

  Get your head in the game!

  “I literally have no clue what just happened.” He continues to move his fingers up and down my arm.

  Up and down.

  Up.

  And.

  Down.

  It feels so good. Too good.

  Don’t you dare shiver, Ensley. Don’t. You. Dare.

  “What happened is that you got your ass handed to you,” I say, internally sighing in relief that I don’t sound as breathless as I feel. “What was that thing you were saying about sensing a challenge? Because I’m pretty sure I just won.”

  He gives me a dirty look, yet he’s still on the verge of smiling. “You can’t win that.”

  “How do you figure?”

  “Because you never accepted the challenge.”

  “I did, though,” I lie with a grin.

  His brow curves upward, and in the glow of the fading sunlight, his eyes sparkle with amusement. “No, you didn’t. In fact, I’m pretty sure you said you weren’t a challenge sort of girl.”

  “I changed my mind.” Another lie, but teasing him is sort of awesome. “And I told you that.”

  He gives me a questioning look. “Um, no, you didn’t, unless we somehow had a secret conversation.”

  “Well, apparently, we did. At least, according to you.” I let a moment pass, hoping he’ll finally tell me about this supposed conversation we had that I have no recollection of. But all he does is smile. That fucking smile. And those butterflies go all dreamy, la, la, la.

  If they don’t knock it off, I’m going to kick their la, la, la asses all the way to dreamyland.

  “Fine, don’t tell me.” I pretend to be unbothered, but I’m not. I want to know all about that conversation that I’m pretty sure was imaginary. “I still won the challenge.”

  His grin magnifies, like he’s enjoying our banter. “You can’t win a challenge if you didn’t accept the challenge. It’s challenge 101.”

  “I did accept it.” I give him a sugary sweet grin. “In my mind. And you should’ve been able to read it. It’s mind reader 101.”

  “Hey, I never said I was a mind reader,” he protests through a soft chuckle. “In fact, I said I wasn’t.”

  “But, in your mind, you were thinking you were,” I tell him, utterly clueless how we got to this point in the conversation. Having no clue what else to do, I keep rolling with it. “I know because I read your mind.”

  “Hey, you said you couldn’t read minds, either.” He’s all laughter now.

  “Yeah, well, I changed my mind.”

  “That’s a lot of minds.” He’s laughing and smiling and shaking his head.

  Normally, when Carter laughs around me, I feel like he’s laughing at me. I’m not sure that’s the case right now. The amusement in his eyes leads me to believe he might be enjoying this conversation.

  Then, just as swiftly as his laughter started, he grows quiet.

  Really quiet.

  Serious.

  So serious.

  And when his lips part, I panic.

  Crap. What the heck is he about to say? Is he going to admit this is all a joke?

  “You’re adorable. You know that?” He removes one hand from my arm and grazes his thumb across my cheekbone. “I mean, I’ve always sort of thought that, but witnessing it personally …” He doesn’t finish, tracing his thumb up and down my cheekbone.

  It feels wonderful, like a massage while eating chocolate. So wonderful and amazing. I really should get some sort of medal for not shivering and letting out a blissful moan.

  “You keep saying stuff like that,” I mumble. “That you’ve always thought I was this or that, but none of it’s been bad.” Words start pouring out of my mouth uncontrollably. “It doesn’t make any sense.”

  In the back of my Carter-is-touching-me dazed mind, I know I shouldn’t be talking about this. Not when I’m supposed to be doing the plan. A plan that’s just getting started. But his touches are apparently making me stupid.

  A crease puckers between his brow. “Why would I say anything bad about you?”

  “Because you do all the time.”

  The crease between his brow deepens. “When?”

  “All the time,” I repeat. Never in a million years would I have ever thought I had the lady balls to confront him about this. “Every time you talk to me, I feel like you’re secretly teasing me.”

  His eyes twinkle. “That’s because I am.”

  Although I already knew this, I feel like I’ve been punched in the gut. I want to walk away. I should walk away. But the plan keeps my feet glued to the ground.

  He searches my eyes, panic flickering across his expression. “I’m not teasing you in a mean way, Ens. I’ve been trying to get your attention.”

  “Huh?” What?

  He smiles at the look on my face, which I’m certain looks stupid. “It’s called flirting. I guess it probably comes off a little weird when it’s only one-sided, huh?” His smile falters, as if he just realized this himself.

  “You’ve flirted with me?” Okaaaay … Yeah… Suuuree …

  I mean, I know he said that in the hallway already, but now he’s implying he does it all the time.

  “I like you,” he insists. “I always have.”

  Those wonderful feelings his touches were bringing go kerplunk.

  “I know that’s not true.”

  His hand pauses on my cheek. “It’s been true for a couple of years.”

  “Not always.” It’s not a question. I know the truth. I wish I knew the truth about everything he was telling me.

  “No, not always.” He sighs. “I know I’ve been an as
shole—still am most of the time—but for the last few years, I’ve been trying to get you to stop acting like I have cooties.”

  His words make no sense to me and go against everything I’ve believed in for over a decade. I’m not even sure if I believe him now. Perhaps this is another part of his game. Perhaps it’s not. I really don’t know, which leaves me really confused and uneasy.

  So, I do the only thing I can think of.

  I crack a joke.

  “Cooties, huh?” I say through a nervous laugh. “I didn’t know those still existed.”

  One side of his mouth quirks up. “Well, I thought they didn’t, but with the way you act around me, I sometimes wonder if I might be suffering from some fictional disease.”

  “Maybe you just have a normal disease,” I say with a shrug. “Perhaps that’s what I’m really worried about.”

  He blasts me with a half-teasing, half-serious dirty look. “I don’t have any diseases. I’m cleaner than a whistle.”

  “Whistles aren’t really that clean. Think about all the saliva and germs on them.”

  He gapes at me, and I start to worry if maybe I took this conversation one step too far.

  Then he busts up laughing.

  “You’re seriously the most amusing person I’ve ever met.” He hunches over, holding on to one of my arms and forcing me to lean over slightly.

  “So, I’m cute, adorable, and amusing,” I joke, feeling slightly shaky inside, like I’m walking on a tight rope. “Sounds like I’m perfect.”

  When he straightens, his eyes are a bit watery with tears of laughter, and a ghost of a smile resides on his lips. “You seriously might be.”

  “I was kidding,” I stress. I know I’m not perfect. Far from it.

  “I’m not.” He looks freakin’ serious.

  It’s freakin’ scary.

  Then his gaze drops to my lips and before I can even comprehend what he’s doing, he leans toward me.

  To kiss me?

  I mentally laugh at my thoughts. Yeah, right.

  Closer, closer, his lips become.

  Okay, maybe not yeah right.

  Then his lips brush mine and, holy butterflies, I feel like I’ve kicked my own la, la, la ass to dreamyland.

  For the briefest moment, I let myself stay there. Then, for the weirdest moment, I feel like I’m falling. Not in a bad way. Just falling, falling, falling to maybe somewhere I’ve never been before.