Her eyes widened when I opened my trunk and pulled out the thick, heavy blanket I’d brought. I could almost see her imagining what sort of nefarious things I might be planning.
“I thought it would be nice to sit on while we ate.” I smiled.
“That would be good,” she replied, visibly relaxing.
I couldn’t resist teasing her some more, though. “Yeah, it will be great for later when it’s darker. I don’t think I should ravish you right here in the middle of the park in full daylight.”
She actually gulped, and I laughed loudly. “I’m just messing with you, Goody. You’re safe. Here hand me the food, and I’ll carry it.”
She blushed and gave me a faltering grin. “It’s okay. I’ve got it.”
“You sure? I’m tough, I can take it all.”
She lifted her chin slightly. “I’m tough too.”
She was full of surprises. “Very well, tough gal. I was thinking we could set up over there under that big, leafy tree so we can have a little shade. Does that look good to you?”
“Yep, let’s do it.”
I cocked my eyebrow. “Did you just proposition me? I think you should know I’m not that kind of guy, Miss Wimberley.”
“Uh . . . ” She laughed nervously.
“Relax, Cami. It’s all right.” I was having entirely too much fun with her already. Be careful, my inner voice warned me again, and I wanted to shove it back down. This was just a friendly date between new friends—following through on something I’d done to help her get out of an awkward situation. I didn’t ever have to ask her out again after this. Everything would be okay and back where it should be. I was safe as long as I kept things light and chill.
I spread the blanket on the ground and gestured for her to take a seat. She did and reached into the bag, dishing our food: two juicy-looking bacon cheeseburgers, crispy fries with ketchup and ranch for dipping, and two shakes—one chocolate for me, one strawberry for her—along with two pieces of thick, homemade apple pie.
“This looks fabulous,” I said as I settled down next to her, stretching out and propping up on one of my elbows.
“Thanks again for inviting me. I know you didn’t have to, but I appreciate you trying to help me last night.”
I took a sip of my shake and stared at her. “You are aware this isn’t a mercy date, aren’t you? I’ve been talking myself out of asking you to do something since I moved here.”
Her eyes widened. “You have? Why?”
I shrugged. “I have some things going on in my life right now that make dating a little on the difficult side. I don’t really want to get into it, but things are complicated. I figured it was easier to stay away rather than risk messing things up.”
I breathed a sigh of relief when she didn’t ask me any more questions. There was no way for me to explain. It was a secret I needed to keep to myself for now.
“Why me?” she finally asked.
Sighing, I touched the end of her hair, fingering it slightly. It felt so silky. “You were the first person I saw at this school. I’d parked in the lot and was walking past the auditorium and saw this gorgeous girl come out of the music room. The sun hit your stunning red hair, and it shone so brightly it almost looked like you had a halo. You were staring down at some music you were holding, and started humming something. I froze. I just stood there and watched you walk by. You were so engrossed you didn’t notice me.” I twisted the loop of her hair around my finger. “You straightened it today. I’ve never seen you wear it this way before.”
She lifted her shake and took a swallow, licking her lips afterward. “I like to change it up every now and then. It’s so thick it takes a long time to straighten.”
I released it and picked up my drink again. “Well, I like it both ways, but when you wear it curly, it bounces like it has a life of its own.”
She laughed. “Just wait until it gets humid in the summer. It frizzes out until I look like I have a crazy red Afro. You won’t think it’s so pretty then.”
I shook my head. “Nah, I bet I’ll think it’s gorgeous no matter what.”
“I’m glad you’re so sure. There are times I’m tempted to chop it all off.” She absently ran her fingers through the length of it.
“Now that would just be a crime. Don’t ever cut it. It perfectly complements the rest of the package.”
“I’m beginning to think you’re a schmoozer, Hunter. I bet you really do have girls falling at your feet, if you talk this way to all of them.” She gave me a soft smile.
“Just telling it like it is. And you need to quit listening to the rumor mill. They don’t have the slightest clue about me and who I am.”
“So you’re saying you’re not some crazy party boy?”
“Depends on who you’re asking, I guess,” I answered vaguely.
“I’m asking you.” She unwrapped her burger and took a bite.
“Okay, tell you what. I’ll give you permission to ask me whatever you want. I’ll answer as honestly as I can, but I get to do the same with you.” I opened my burger and took a bite too.
She looked surprised and appeared to think it over while she finished chewing and swallowed. “Okay. That seems fair. Let me think.”
I dipped some of my fries in ketchup while I waited.
“Do you use drugs?”
I laughed. “Gonna go straight for the heavy questions first, are you?”
“Might as well.” She was waiting for my answer as if she were looking for any kind of lie in what I said.
“Yes, I use.”
She seemed shocked by my completely honest reply.
A chuckled again. “It depends. Sometimes more, sometimes less—mostly a little weed that I score at some parties.”
“Have you used harder stuff?”
“It was available once in a while when I was partying with peeps. Just one of those things.” I wondered what she was thinking about me now.
“I don’t mean to judge, but I’ve never been able to understand why anyone would want to try something they know could hurt them.”
“Sometimes people just want to escape, Cami. They like the way it feels when they get high.”
“And you like feeling that way?”
“I guess so, or I wouldn’t be doing it, would I?”
She stared off toward the playground where kids were on the swings, cheering happily with each other. “I went to a dance with Clay a few months before you moved here. It was probably halfway over when one of the most popular guys in school came staggering up. He grabbed me, begged me to help him, and then he fell to the floor and started convulsing. He died a few moments later. He’d had a heart attack from a drug overdose. I keep replaying the scene over and over again in my head, wondering if there was something I could’ve done. I didn’t know what was happening. I wasn’t sure what to do. I thought he was drunk.” She looked at me seriously. “I didn’t know Jordan well, but I couldn’t figure out why he was involved with all that. He was this amazing football player. He had several scholarship offers too. His whole life was ahead of him. I can’t help but think what a waste of a promising future.” She paused before she continued. “It scared me—scarred me. I know you and I aren’t that well acquainted, but I can say you seem like a nice guy, and I’d feel horrible if something like that happened to you. I’m not gonna lie . . . I wish you’d stop.”
What was I supposed to say to that? She’d bared her heart to me, and for one moment I couldn’t imagine a plea that was as sweet as this one. How could anyone say no to something like this?
I shook my head. “The only reassurance I can give you is that I’ll be careful. Lots of things you’ve heard about me are greatly exaggerated and aren’t as bad as they seem. People see what they want.”
She nodded. “I recognize how that can be true. It happens in every social group,
I nodded; content to watch her for a moment. “So here’s my question for you.” This was probably going to come back and bite me later.
“Will you go out with me again, even though you know I do drugs, or is this it for me?”
She looked down at her burger and played with the wrapper. “My parents wouldn’t like it if they knew, and Clay would be furious.”
“That’s not what I asked. I want to know what you think about it.”
She looked solemn. “I think I don’t like the idea of you doing drugs at all, but I also think there’s more to you than that. It wouldn’t be fair for me not to be your friend because I didn’t like something about you. So, yeah, I’d go out with you again.”
Relief overwhelmed me and also made me nervous in the same heartbeat. She was attracted to me, but that could be so incredibly bad. I wished for one moment I was free to sweep her off her feet.
“My turn for a question now.” She smiled. “Are you the womanizer people say you are?”
I grinned widely. “Maybe, once upon a time—a long time ago—but not recently. I really haven’t had the time for girls in my life lately. That’s the honest truth.”
She scrunched up her nose. “Then why are you here with me?”
“I can’t answer that. You already used your question, so it’s my turn now,” I teased her and she laughed, breaking off a piece of her burger and throwing it at me.
“You’re not seriously trying to start a food fight, are you?” I couldn’t believe how she kept catching me by surprise.
“I never start something I can’t finish. Now answer my question.”
“No. I need to ask mine first.”
“You just did. You asked me about starting a food fight.” She laughed hard and threw another piece.
“That doesn’t count!” I lunged, trying to grab her burger.
“Yes, it does!” She yanked it out of my reach, holding it high over her head.
I flopped back onto the blanket. “Fine, you win. Ask me something.”
“I want you to answer my original question. If you don’t have time for girls, why are you here with me?”
I groaned, running a hand over my forehead. “Because I’m stupid and a glutton for punishment apparently, and I mean that in the nicest way possible.”
She looked at me skeptically, as if she didn’t understand.
“There’s just something about you that I like. I’m suffering from ‘moth to flame’ syndrome, I guess. Russ teases me about it. He calls you my eye candy.” I paused, stumbling for what I should say. “There’s something I like about you,” I repeated lamely as I pushed forward. “You’re beautiful, and you’re real. I love that I can talk to you and get straight answers like this. You don’t play games.” I sighed in frustration. “Sorry, I’m rambling.”
She shook her head and smiled. “You’re very nice.”
“Okay. I have one more serious question, and then we can move on to lighter stuff.”
“All right.” She looked like she was preparing herself.
“It has to do with what you told me about your experience. Why did Jordan come to you for help at the dance? Was there something going on between you two? Were you dating or something? Sorry, I’m just trying to get a better picture.”
If she noticed I’d just listed three questions she didn’t say anything. “I think I was just the unlucky person he happened to be by. I don’t think he was asking me for help in particular though, just saying he needed help. And I do believe it was self-inflicted. He’d been known to party before, much in the same context you’ve shared with me. That’s why I’m worried about what you told me. He partied like you.”
“I get it,” I answered with a nod.
“But you won’t change.”
“I can’t promise that, no. I wish I could, but I don’t want to disappoint you.”
Silence hung in the air between us, and I wished I could tell her the whole truth.
That wasn’t possible, though. I couldn’t trust anyone.
Crush by Lacey Weatherford / Romance & Love have rating 5 out of 5 / Based on15 votes