Authors: Chelsea M. Cameron
Tags: #romance, #New Adult
Alas, it’s just like all the other times. We all order Sex on the Beach drinks, find a spot, and my friends start scoping while I wait to enjoy dancing. I might be a control freak, but contrary to what my friends believe, I do love letting go on the dance floor. I did dance team in high school, but it conflicted with my other activities so I had to give it up after graduation. I miss it all the time. There’s something wonderful about knowing your body and how it moves and escaping into a song for a while. The world blurs, and I don’t feel awkward and out of place. But we can’t dance until I’ve rejected at least three prospects. Or that’s how the routine goes.
“What about him?” Daisy says, sipping her drink and leaning down so I can hear her. She jabs her chin at a cluster of guys at the bar. “Gray shirt, baseball cap.”
I try to study the guy with an objective eye. He’s turned sideways and talking to another guy. They’re both nursing Bud Lights. If you looked up “average twenty-something male from Maine” in the dictionary, that guy’s picture would pop up. Just . . . generic. Average. He does have nice arms, I suppose, and a nice smile. But he probably doesn’t read, ever, and he’s probably really into sports. If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s a guy who makes fun of me for getting excited about a book, and then turns around and gets even more excited about some stupid sports team.
I turn back to Daisy. She should be looking for her own man, but here she is, trying to help me out. I can’t get mad at her for that, can I?
“Well?” she says, sucking the last of her drink down. I look back at the guy, who has sensed us staring at him, and looks over.
“Meh,” I say, shrugging. He isn’t virginity-losing material. If he’d even be interested in me anyway. Right now he’s staring at Daisy, who is oblivious.
“You’re impossible,” Daisy yells, shaking her head as she goes to get a second drink. The guy tries to talk to her, but she ignores him.
We finally head out to the dance floor, have some more drinks and I turn down some more guys. My friends all get approached, and they try to steer whatever guy trying to hit on them to me, but I manage to give off enough of a repelling vibe that their eyes slide right over me. On the rare occasion they actually want to talk, I spend the time giving them one-word answers while counting up their flaws in my head. Crooked teeth, weird cologne, wart on index finger, won’t stop calling me “dude”, doesn’t understand that “irregardless” isn’t a word . . .
They finally get fed up with me and insist that I at least talk to someone for five minutes. Hazel even got a timer going on her phone. I guess I could do that. Five minutes wasn’t going to kill me. I scan the bar, looking for someone I could comfortably converse with for five minutes without wanting to kill myself or run away.
And then there he is. Like a lighthouse on a foggy evening, Laptop Guy from the café walks in the door. My savior. I nod to my friends and point at him. They all give me a thumbs-up, so I walk over to him, with what I hope is confidence. He appears to be alone, which is even better. His eyes scan the room, like he is looking for someone, and then they stop on me. I lift my hand and give him a little wave.
“Hi,” I say. Or yell. The music is pretty loud at the moment. I can feel my friends staring at my back.
“Hi. Nice to see you again.” He smiles and my knees go wobbly. “Do you, um, come here often?” Wow, he’s nervous now? He’d been so confident at the café.
“Yeah,” is my brilliant response. “I mean, I don’t come here a lot, a lot, but I come here sometimes.” Even more brilliant.
“Do you want a drink?” I motion to the one already in my hand. I wonder how many minutes have passed. I must be close to being done. Would they come get me when I was done? Would they yell or make a buzzer sound?
“Oh,” he says. “Are you here with someone?”
“Just some friends. They’re right over . . .” I trail off because my friends are not where I left them, watching me fumble through my five minutes. I do a quick scan of the room and they aren’t there. What the hell?
“Um, they were right there. Can you give me a second?” I went for my phone, but remembered I’d left my purse at the table. It was gone. They’d taken my purse hostage to make sure I talked to him. They were probably in the bathroom having a good laugh, or maybe hiding in a corner. Yup, there they were. They spotted me and Hazel pointed at my purse and shook her head.
“Something wrong?” Laptop Guy says.
“Nope. Just having an absolutely sucky night.” They thought it was funny, and I might have, if they hadn’t been so pushy and insistent so many other times. It isn’t a harmless joke. Not to me. And that is when I snap and decide I’ve had enough. I turn to Laptop Guy and say something that I have never said to a stranger before.
“This is going to sound really weird, but could you take me home?” Laptop Guy’s eyes go wide for a second and he laughs and shakes his head.
“Well, if you put it that way . . .”
Now it’s my turn to be shocked. “Oh my God! I’m not asking you to . . . you know . . . I just need a ride. In a car. Like, I need you to get in your car with me in the passenger seat and take me home. Driving. Just driving. Not a euphemism.” I’m glad the bar is dark enough that he can’t see my face flame up.
Yup, I can add this moment to the list of reasons I’m forever single. I sniff and try not to look behind me at my friends.
“Yeah, of course. You must be desperate if you’re willing to ask a stranger.” That’s one word for it.
“You’re not a stranger, exactly. You’re Laptop Guy.” He laughs again and I feel a tiny bit better. At least there’s one person who’s willing to be nice to me.
“I was going to meet my roommate here, but I can’t find him anyway, so come on.” He holds the door open for me. I don’t even have my coat, since they have that, probably so I couldn’t leave without telling them first. I don’t look back as Jett and I exit the bar and walk toward his car. “Also, although Laptop Guy is the name on my birth certificate, I go by Jett. It’s actually my middle name, but no one can pronounce my actual first name.” Cool guy, cool name. Not a lot of guys could pull off a name like that. But he definitely wouldn’t have passed as a Winston or a David.
“Hi, Jett, I’m Shannon.”
He leads me toward a car that seems to have been assembled by taking apart several other cars and welding them back together in a sort of patchwork vehicle. It isn’t even all one color.
“Um,” I say as he holds the door open for me.
“It doesn’t look like much, but it’ll get you where you need to go. You scared, princess?” Okay, so I’d asked the guy for a favor, and I know his first name, but he’s calling me princess now? That’s a little too . . . familiar. He must have seen the uneasy look on my face, or my hesitation to get in the car.
He backs up immediately. “Whoa, okay. I’m sorry. If you want, I can call you a cab.”
“No, it’s fine,” I say sliding into the passenger seat. I thought it would reek of oil, or dirty socks, but it smells really nice, as if he’d just cleaned it and also has an air freshener hidden somewhere. He gets in and clicks his seatbelt. I look at the front of the bar and see my friends. Or whatever they are now. I glare at them. I wish the identical looks of shock on their faces were more satisfying, but they aren’t. Hazel starts to walk toward the car.
“Um, if you could go, that would be great.” Jett manhandles the shifter into submission and we take off, driving right past my friends.
“You know them?”
“Yeah. They’re on my shit list right now.” Jett nods in understanding and then puts his arm around me.
“You also might want to smile like I’ve said something funny,” he says as he slowly drives past them.
“Well, say something funny, and I will.”
He turns his head and says one word.
This causes me to burst out laughing just as we drive by my “friends”, my head thrown back as Jett laughs with me and punches the accelerator and we screech out of the lot, the tires definitely leaving marks behind. As soon as we’re out of sight I duck from under Jett’s arm. I can’t believe he made me laugh.
“Thanks for that.”
“Anytime. So where can I take you?”
Now I have to ask him another favor.
“Here’s the deal. I can’t go back to my apartment right now, so could you just, drop me off somewhere and I’ll take a cab home in a little while.”
Jett shakes his head and pulls the car over on the side of the road.
“There is no way I’m leaving someone who looks like you alone on a Saturday night. I know we just met and all, but if you need a place to go, you can come to my place. My roommate is still MIA. Or we could go somewhere else, but I’m definitely not abandoning the girl who guarded my laptop.”
“You really . . . you really don’t have to do that. I can um . . .” I really don’t have anywhere else to go. I really don’t. Unless I want to camp out at the library. Been there, done that.
“I’m not a serial killer, I swear,” he says.
“Um, that’s probably what a serial killer would say. I mean, it’s not like they walk around wearing t-shirts, or carrying signs. ‘Hello, my name is Jake and I’m a Serial Killer’.”
“True. But a serial killer probably wouldn’t bring up serial killers. You know, because that would be too obvious.”
He does have a point there.
“So can I take you back to my place?” he says, putting his hands back on the wheel. “In a completely non-creepy, non-sexual, not-trying-to-pick-you-up-way?”
I sigh, because I really don’t have another choice. Unless I ask him to take me back. No, I can’t do that. I’m following through.
“Well don’t sound so happy about it,” he says, chuckling as he signals and pulls back onto the road.
“I’m sorry. It’s just been a sucky night. It’s a long story. I’d rather not get into it.” He nods in understanding. It’s also an embarrassing story.
“Well, I’m just going to say that a true friend will never make you feel like shit. Just my opinion.”
I don’t know what else to say, because I’m terrible at small talk and usually say the wrong thing, but Jett appears to be gifted in that area as well. I learn that he’s a graphic arts major and he’s also twenty-one. He asks me about my major and some of my classes. It helps me stop thinking about how angry and hurt I am and I find myself smiling and laughing. Jett is infectious.
It turns out we’d actually had a class together last year and start talking about the insane professor and before I know it, we’re pulling into the driveway of what probably once was a building, but only loosely resembles one now. It had been painted and re-painted so many times that I can’t tell what color it’s supposed to be anymore. The windows look like eyes and they’re sagging so much they made the house look depressed.
“Yeah, it’s a shit shack. But I’m shit poor, so it kind of fits, yeah?”
“No, it’s, um . . .” I struggle to find anything nice to say about it. “Okay, fine, it’s a shit shack. But I’m sure you did the best you could with it. Mine isn’t much better.” I’m being kind. I thought my place was bad, but it’s a mansion with a fountain and a circular driveway compared to this, and the trailer I grew up in was the Four Seasons.
He laughs and comes around to open my door before I can do it. I’m so surprised I can’t stop a look of shock from going across my face.
“Sorry. It’s a habit. My parents were kind of strict.” His normally happy demeanor drops for a minute. Then his smile is back in place and he’s leading me to a door that he has to unlock with two keys and two kicks before it will open.
“There’s also a secret password if the kicks don’t work,” he says as he lets me into the apartment.
“What is it?” I whisper. He leans down and his breath is warm on my ear. In a really nice way. Not a creepy way. He also smells good. Not sweaty or too much Axe-y. Just a hint of . . . deodorant maybe? Something fresh and clean that might have a “rainforest” on the container. It’s delicious. I kind of want to keep smelling it, but he moves aside.
“If I told you, I’d have to kill you.”
“So you are a serial killer then.” He just laughs. I give him a look, but he keeps walking.
“Do you want the tour?” He motions at the living room, which has one of those uglier-than-sin (or, if it’s possible to be uglier than that, this one is) plaid couches that he’d probably picked up at a yard sale, a coffee table covered in cup rings and empty red plastic cups, pizza boxes and other man trash.
“Yeah, sure,” I say, trying not to look down at the floor as he leads me through the living room to the back where there’s a postage stamp-sized kitchen complete with yellow cabinets that are probably from the 1970s and appliances that are at least that old in that ugly green someone must have been high to think was attractive.
Jett rubs the back of his neck and I can tell he’s kind of embarrassed by how messy it is. Dishes in the sink, more pizza boxes on the counter and just a hint of old beer smell.
“Yeah, I gave up on cleaning out here. My roommate just messes it up again. He’s a decent guy, he just doesn’t understand that you have to clean on a regular basis.” He hurries me out of the kitchen.