Rules of a Rebel and a Shy Girl, Page 18Jessica Sorensen
“Yeah, he plays on one of the other city leagues, and we’ve chatted a few times after games.” He shoves up the sleeves of his shirt, glancing up the hallway then back at me. “What were you guys talking about before I walked up?”
I shrug, loathing myself that I’m about to lie to him once again. “Nothing. Just an assignment.”
A pucker forms at his brows as he studies me again, as if trying to unravel my thoughts. “It looked like you two were kind of having a pretty intense conversation.”
“The assignment was for a final, and you know how I get about finals.” Guilt smashes my chest, making it difficult to get air into my lungs. I can’t tell Beck the truth. Not about this. What I can do is talk to him about my father. Not until we’re alone, though, in case I lose control.
He glances down the hallway again then fixes his gaze on me again. “You’re not … Is there something going on between you two?”
“What!” I cry out, drawing attention from people passing by. I inch closer to him and lower my voice. “Why would you think that?”
He shrugs, his jaw set tight. “Because that’s how it kind of looked with how close you two were standing to each other. And you had this look on your face like you were relaxed.”
Try more like relieved Everette wasn’t going to tell anyone my secret.
Still, I don’t want Beck thinking I’m dating anyone, especially after I made such a big deal about the kiss and us never hooking up again.
“I promise you, I’m not seeing anyone, including Everette,” I tell him, and the tension in his body loosens. “You should know that, considering … well, everything.” My gaze magnetizes to his lips again as images of our kisses soar through my thoughts. My skin warms like gooey melted chocolate, chocolate I want to eat … taste … and … I blink.
Oh, my God, what the hell is wrong with me? I’ve lost all of my self-control.
Panicking over my out of control thoughts, I hastily change the subject. “So, what have you been up to for the last week? I feel like I haven’t seen you in ages.” Exactly seven days ago, since I gave you the list. But who’s counting?
“Yeah, I know. I wanted to hang out, but I’ve been busy.”
His shoulders slump. “And work.”
“Since when are you busy with work? I thought that was kind of the point of having your own business and doing what you do: you make your own hours.”
“Not with that job.” He sounds irritated, although I don’t think it’s toward me.
I stuff the textbook I’m holding into my bag. “You have another job? Since when? Oh, was that why you were up early when I called you yesterday?”
He nods then motions for me to follow him. “Come on. I’ll explain while we walk.” He starts to walk down the hallway then pauses. “We are still hanging out, right?”
I nod. “Of course. I was just getting ready to text you when I ran into Everette.”
His lip curls in annoyance at the mention of Everette, but when he notices me watching him, he forces a fake smile. “Want to go to the café on the corner? There’s actually something I really need to talk to you about besides my current job position, and that place is pretty quiet.”
“Sounds good to me.” I smile, growing uneasy as I think of all the things he could want to talk to me about. “It’s not bad, is it?”
He glances at me distractedly. “What?”
“What you want to talk to me about.”
“No, not at all. At least, I don’t think so.”
“Can you give me just a hint, so I don’t worry?” I ask as we push out the doors and step into the warmth of the sunlight.
“Now what would be the fun in that?” He chuckles at the look on my face then slings his arm around my shoulder.
I tense for a microsecond and consider pulling away. Then that safe feeling takes over, and I lean into him.
God, I needed this more than I even realized.
Need? The word sends panic and shock through my body.
The start of my mom’s downfall.
I start to lean away.
“Relax.” His lips pull into an adorable lopsided smile that convinces me to stay put. “The café is only about two minutes away.”
“Two whole minutes,” I joke. “I think you’re overestimating my patience.”
“You’re usually pretty patient.”
“Not when you tell me you need to talk to me about something.”
“It’s just an idea I had,” he explains as we hike across the lawn underneath the shade of the trees.
“About me helping you with moving out of that apartment.”
I slow to a stop. “Beck, I really appreciate your help, but—”
He places a finger over my lips. “No protesting until you’ve heard me out, okay? Just give me that.”
Well, crap. How can I say no to that, especially while he’s batting those baby blues at me?
I nod reluctantly. “Okay, I’ll hear you out.” My lips move against his finger, and his gaze flits to my mouth, his tongue slipping out to wet his lips. “But only because you’re my best friend.” I aim for a light tone, but I sound cringingly breathless.
Desire flames in his expression and my heart stammers from the look. Thank God he rips his attention off my mouth before I end up collapsing on the ground.
“That’s the only reason, huh?” he teases. “So, what does that mean? That you never hear anyone else out?”
“Not usually,” I joke in an off-pitch voice that makes me cringe. “I guess you should consider yourself very lucky.”
We start walking again, stepping onto the sidewalk and heading for the corner.
“Oh, I do,” he assures me, grinning from ear-to-ear, “especially right now.”
My brows dip. “Why now?”
He winks at me. “I’m here with you.”
I roll my eyes. “That was so cheesy.”
He nudges me with his shoulder. “Don’t pretend you don’t like it.”
I roll my eyes again, but when he smiles at me again and my heart flutters, fear lashes through me. I don’t know if my nerves are from the kiss or if all the stress bearing down on me has turned me into a twitchy squirrel. But I don’t like being nervous around him, not when he’s the only person who calms me down.
“What are you thinking about?” he asks, suddenly seeming apprehensive, too.
“Homework,” I lie. God, I suck.
The sunlight reflects in his eyes as he assesses me. “Are you sure? You seem … nervous.”
“You should know by now that I’m just a nervous person,” I remind him as we hop off the sidewalk to cross the street.
“Yeah, but I also know that, if anyone can calm you down, it’s me.” He grins proudly. “So what do I need to do?”
Kiss me again.
Touch me again.
Make me go back to the stars.
What the fuck is wrong with me?
“Tell me what you want to talk to me about,” I reply as we arrive at the entrance to the quaint coffee shop. “And then I have some stuff to talk to you about.”
His brow rises as he looks at me. “You do?”
I nod. “A lot of shit happened yesterday.” When his lips part, I place my finger over his lips like he did to me. “You get to talk first, and then I’ll go.”
He slowly nods with a puzzled, impish glint in his eyes. I soon find out where the look is stemming from as he nips my finger then backs away, leaving my jaw hanging to my knees.
When he reaches the door, he pulls it open and motions for me to go in first, bowing like a total weirdo. “My lady.”
That gets me to laugh.
He grins. “I knew that one would win you over.”
I roll my eyes, ignoring the torrid emotions funneling around inside me. “You’re such a weirdo.” I enter the café, breathing in the deliciou
s scent of coffee and baked goods.
He lets the door swing shut behind us. “Like you’re not.”
I get in line, looking over the menu on the marquee. “No, not at all. I’m the opposite of a weirdo.”
He moves closer, and I stiffen, conflicted, wanting, fearing. Want. Fear.
“Junior year at my end of the school year bash,” he whispers in my ear. “You spent the entire night pretending you were a wizard and casting magic spells on everyone.”
It takes me a moment to hear his words through the fogginess in my brain.
“I was drunk.” My voice comes out hoarse, and I quickly clear my throat. “Normally, I don’t do that kind of stuff.”
“The beginning of sophomore year,” he says. “You made me play dress up with all that weird steampunk shit you collect.”
“Hey, I don’t know why that makes me weird.” A hint of a smile rises on my lips. “You’re the one who played dress up.”
He lightly pinches my hip, and my body jolts, my back arching toward him and my ass brushing against his hips. Tension electrifies as we both freeze. Beck starts breathing loudly. Or maybe I do. It’s really hard to tell when we’re this close.
What the hell is happening? It’s like those kisses broke my ability to think clearly.
“What can I get you?” the cashier girl asks, dousing the moment.
I jump forward, taking a breath to settle my lunatic heart.
Dammit. I should’ve put a no touching rule on the list. But I really didn’t think things would be this bad between us. They never have been before. Then again, I’ve never grinded my hips against Beck until I came apart. Over and over and over again…
“Miss?” the cashier looks at me like I’m the weirdo Beck just accused me of being. “Are you going to order anything?”
I glance from the menu to her. “Um …”
“She’ll have a caramel latte.” Beck steps beside me, a ghost of a smile dancing on his lips. “And I’ll have a mocha cappuccino. And we’ll both have ham and turkey subs.”
I smile gratefully at him, and he throws me a wink before turning back to the cashier.
She smiles at Beck, twisting a strand of her highlighted hair around her finger, going all doe-eyed. “Do you want any cookies to go with that? They’re two for a dollar.”
Beck looks at me, seeming highly amused. “What do you think, princess? You want something sweet to nibble on?”
I battle the overwhelming urge to stare at his mouth again. “Sure.”
His eyes sparkle with delight as he glances back at the cashier. “We’ll take two chocolate chips.”
Her gaze dances between the two of us. Then she untwists her hair from her finger and punches in the order. “That’ll be nineteen fifty-seven.” Her tone isn’t so friendly anymore, and I smile to myself, though I have no right to.
I swing my bag around to dig my wallet out, but Beck swats my hand away.
“My treat,” he says, retrieving his wallet from his jeans.
“I’m paying for mine,” I tell him firmly, slipping my hand into my bag.
“Please just let me pay for this one. I’m the one who suggested we get coffee, anyway.” He opens his wallet and digs out a twenty.
“So what? I’m the one who’s going to be drinking it.” I take my wallet out, grab a ten because that’s all I have and hand him the bill. “I’m going to pay for my own beverages and food, or I’m not going to eat and drink them.”
He hesitates before taking the money from me and stuffing it into his wallet. “Next time, I’m buying.”
I disregard the remark. “And no trying to slip it back into my wallet when you think I’m not looking.”
Shock flashes in his eyes, but he quickly shakes the look away. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“You so do.”
“Beck, you’re so full of—”
“Oh, look, a table opened up.” He hurries off toward a table near the window and takes a seat.
I give the cashier my name then make my way around the tables and sink into the chair across from him.
I slip my bag off my shoulder, set it by my feet, and rest my arms on the table. “Okay, what do you need to talk to me about my living situation for?” My tone is formal, casual, despite my crazy lunatic heart.
He chuckles, his eyes crinkling at the corners. “You’re seriously the most impatient person sometimes.”
I reach across the table to flick his hand, but he drops his other hand over mine, trapping my palm on the table.
“Now you’re my prisoner.” He grins wickedly. “And I’m never letting you go.”
My heart pulsates from the contact, and not necessarily in a bad way. I try to wiggle my hand free, but he refuses to let go.
“No way,” he says. “I’m not letting you go until you hear my idea completely out.”
“You’re making me nervous … if you have to trap me here to say whatever it is you need to say.”
“I just want to get through my entire speech without any interruptions. That’s all.”
“But you’re afraid I’ll try to bolt?”
“Not really bolt so much as wander off when I start saying things you may not want to hear.”
“I don’t do that,” I say, flattening my hand on the table.
“You do sometimes.” He traces his thumb across the back of my hand, and I shiver. “You did in the field.”
A huge elephant wearing a tutu and ballet slippers appears next to us and starts twirling around as awkward silence fills the air. Part of me wants to keep my lips fused and never speak of what happened, let the elephant dance and twirl between us for the rest of my life. The other part of me knows how distracting that would be. And wanting a distraction is what led me to get drunk last Friday, which led to me making out with Beck.
“So, what’s your idea that will help my living situation?” I force the elephant to sashay away.
His brows pop up, as if he half-expected me not to say anything at all. “I want you to move in with me.”
I had a feeling he was going to say that. “I don’t think—”
He swiftly extends his free hand across the table and gently places it over my mouth. “Please, just listen to my entire speech before saying no, okay? It’s not as bad as you’re thinking. At least, I don’t think so.”
I hesitantly nod, despite not wanting to, but he has such a pleading look on his face.
To reduce some of the stiffness between us, I crack a joke. “Man, you must be getting desperate”—my lips move against his palm as I speak, and butterflies frolic in my stomach—“if you have to pin my hand to the table and gag me.”
He withdraws his hand, his lips threatening to turn upward. “Well, desperate times call for desperate measures.” He puts his other hand over mine. “You’re turning me into a desperate man, Wills.”
I don’t know what to say to that, so I don’t say anything at all. Inside, my heart reacts with a spastic flutter. Damn little weirdo. It needs to start acting normal again.
His lips quirk at my silence as he strokes the back of my hand with his fingertip. “I want you to move in with me.”
It takes all of my willpower not to cut him off right there.
“And I know you don’t want handouts from me—that’s not what this is. I promise. In fact, I was thinking that you could pay some rent. That way, you will feel more comfortable.” He sucks in a preparing breath. “Also, I know you’re probably thinking about the list and how its existence is a good reason not to move in with me, but I promise you it’ll only make the situation better because it gives us boundaries. It’ll keep us in line so we stay … just friends.” He swallows hard at the last part.
“I love the offer.” And part of me really does. “But I just don’t think it’s a good idea with everything going on. And besides, there’s no way I could afford to rent your place.”
“I know that,” he says. “And that’s why I wa
nt to make rent be whatever you can afford. It’s not like I need the money, so it doesn’t even matter. I’m only letting you pay rent because I know you won’t consider this unless I do.”
“I know you don’t need the money, but …” I rack my mind for an excuse. I’m scared. Scared to move. Scared to move in with a guy I kissed. Scared to move in with a guy I want to kiss. “Then why would you even want a roommate? I mean, people usually get roommates to split the cost of rent.”
“I don’t want to do this because I want a roommate,” he stresses. “I want to do this to take away some of the stress your mom’s put on you for years. And I know you want to move out of that apartment. You even called Wynter to see if you could rent a room from her.”
My head slants to the side, my brows knit. “Wynter called you and told you that?”
“Of course she did. She was worried about you. She cares about you.” He cups my hand between his. “She said you sounded upset … Did something happen?”
According to my mom, no one cares about me.
I shrug. “My mom came home, asking for money to buy drugs. That’s it. I don’t even know why I got so upset. It’s not like she’s never done that before.”
“Princess …” He holds my hand like it’s the most precious thing in the world. “It wasn’t okay any of the times she did it, and I think deep down you know that. You deserve so much better, even if you don’t think so.” He traces circles on the back of my hand with his thumb, watching me, as if waiting for me to say something. I know if I open my mouth, I just might fall apart. “Let me help you, please. I want to … I want to take care of you.”
“I don’t need anyone to take care of me. I’m fine.” I choke on the lie. The truth is, I want to accept his offer because I’m terrified of not getting a good enough job, of not being able to pay rent, of living my life while always worrying if my mom is dead. Of becoming the woman who stood in front of me in my bedroom, begging for money and destroying the snow globes my dad gave me just because I wouldn’t. The woman who told her own daughter no one cares about her.
I suck in a breath and another, trying to compose myself. I’ve been running on stress and anxiety for weeks now, and I feel like I’m standing on a cliff, about to fall.