Authors: Melissa Pearl
Tags: #coming of age, #justice, #young adult, #fugitive, #contemporary romance
Her blue eyes shifted in the direction I was pointing, her expression giving me nothing. Finally she gave a short nod. “Your place sounds good.”
“Cool.” I had to force myself to go for a half smile rather than the full on beam I felt like showing. I didn’t want to come across as desperate, but I was stoked that I’d get to spend a little time with her now. I was hoping to put a few more pieces together.
So far I had athletic tomboy who was afraid of the water, but forced herself to swim anyway. This just added to my
damn, she is a mentally strong chick
theory, which also made me feel better. I didn’t want to fall…I mean, be intrigued…by a damsel in distress again. I liked that Dani was so competent.
We were pulling out of the school parking lot when I decided to break the silence.
“So, how do you like Danville so far?”
“It’s okay.” She scratched the side of her nose. “I haven’t really had a chance to check it out yet.”
“Well, if you need a tour guide.” My smile was cheesy. I could tell by the look on her face. I was trying too hard and failing miserably.
She turned away from me and kept her eyes out the window…and I stupidly kept talking.
“So, why’d you move here?”
“My dad’s work.” Her nose wrinkled.
“Oh yeah and what does he do?”
She pulled in a slow breath. Buying time? Or maybe just trying for the right words.
“I don’t know his official title and he has one of those stupid jobs that’s really hard to explain. All I can tell you is that it’s to do with computers. Companies hire him to install software into their systems and then hang around until it’s basically glitch free.”
“So, you move where the money is then?”
“Pretty much. He does work for a bigger company… Computer Tech something-or-other and they set him up with various jobs. They can be anywhere from one month to four month stints.”
“Whoa, so you move around a lot then.”
“Yeah.” She tucked a wisp of hair behind her ear. “I mean, I guess I could home school, but it’s just me and my dad, so it’s not like I’d have anyone to help me with stuff…and the idea of boarding school is just too hideous, so traveling it is.”
“What happened to your mom?”
Her face pinched tight, her brows dipping together.
“Sorry, too far.” I shook my head. “Forget I asked.”
She wasn’t looking at me, but I could feel her expression softening. “She died when I was young,” Dani whispered. I barely caught the words, her voice was so soft and distant.
I didn’t want to speak after that. I was such an idiot! Always asking too many questions.
In spite of my self-loathing, I had figured out why Danielle Harrison seemed so self-sufficient. With moving around so much, she had to be. I tried not to judge her father, but couldn’t help wondering what kind of parent dragged their child from place to place for work. I guessed if they only had each other…
Catching Dani’s eye, I forced a smile and pulled onto my street. Our house was the fifth from the corner. It was a dark orange, brick place that had been built in the ‘70s. Pretty simple, but neat and tidy. My parents were house freaks, always doing yard work and spring cleaning, so for an older place it looked pretty good. I had mown the lawn over the weekend and with Dani getting out of my car and sweeping her eyes over the property, I was suddenly glad Dad made me do it.
“Hmm,” Dani murmured as she got out of the car. “And here I was thinking you lived in a palatial mansion.”
I chuckled. “No, that would be Elliot and Liesl. The rest of us are the paupers of the group.” I winked.
She nodded, a small frown denting her forehead.
“Yeah, I’m great.” She grinned, her expression clearing.
I led her through the front entrance and dumped my bag next to the dining room table. I figured Dani would be super uncomfortable working in my room. She barely knew me.
“Drink? Something to eat?” I pointed at the kitchen.
“Sure.” Dani slung the bag from her shoulder to the floor with an easy smile.
I pottered around in the kitchen while she unzipped her bag and pulled out her pencil case, sliding into a seat at the table. I loved how elegantly she moved, like smooth, flowing water. I placed two glasses of lemonade and a plate of Mom’s chocolate slice on the table. It was her go-to baking recipe. She didn’t bake much, but when she did, she always made a double batch of chocolate slice. Dani’s eyes lit up when she saw the plate. I’d cut really big pieces this time. Two each.
I could tell she wanted to reach for one straight away, so I shoved the plate in her direction. She took the top piece and nibbled the corner.
Her murmur of approval made me smile.
I wanted to know about her appetite. For such a slender thing, I had assumed she was super conscious about what she ate, but she didn’t think twice about the chocolate slice. Was she skinny because she wanted to be or because she just naturally was? I nearly opened my mouth to ask, but swallowed back the question when she looked up at me.
“Should we get started?” She opened up her binder. It was neatly labelled under subject areas and she flipped to Sociology, running her finger over the assignment sheet. “Okay, so what are your thoughts so far?”
I eased into my chair, took a bite of chocolate slice and rubbed the crumbs from my fingers. Pulling out the crumpled assignment sheet from my bag, I smoothed it out and we got started.
An hour later we were set on which sub-culture we were going to study and who would be assigned to which tasks. It had been really easy working with Dani. We both seemed interested in the same things and she liked my suggestions straight away…happy to go along with whatever. She didn’t shy away from the workload either, which was a relief. Last time I did a group assignment, I’d had to do practically everything, which really pissed me off.
I had a feeling this assignment was going to be a lot more fun.
“Well, there’s probably nothing much more we can do today. I’ll look into this stuff.” I tapped my pen on the first task.
“And I’ll work on that.” Dani grinned, pointing at the next task on the list. Our hands nearly brushed as she glanced at me, her eyes locking with mine for an intense second of who knows what. All I know is that it was totally cut short.
“Hey Zach! We’re home!”
Dani flinched, dropping her gaze. Her hand retreated back to her own binder.
I loved my parents, but man did their timing suck. I pushed a smile over my lips and looked across the kitchen.
“Oh hi.” Mom breezed in from the laundry room where the internal door from the garage was located. Her bright, warm eyes took everything in and I was pretty sure her sunshine smile caught Dani by surprise. I couldn’t figure out what Dani was thinking as she forced her lips north.
“Hi.” She stood from her chair and extended her hand. “Danielle Harrison.”
Mom grasped her hand, obviously impressed. “You can call me Loretta and the guy lumbering through the kitchen is Tom.”
Dani gave a tentative wave to my dad’s loud, “Howdy!”
“So, what are you guys working on?” Mom shrugged her jacket off, looking over my shoulder.
“Just a Sociology assignment.”
“Oh neat.” She was always so enthusiastic about school work. She taught Grade 1…enthusiasm came with the territory. “Well, Danielle, do you want to stay for dinner, sweetie?”
“No.” Dani’s skin was white, her shoulders tense, but then her demeanor changed as if she caught herself. “I mean, yes.” She smiled, holding her forehead as if mortified. “Of course I’d love to stay, but I can’t. Sorry.” She looked back to my mom. “Dad’s expecting me home for dinner.”
“That’s fine, honey.” Mom squeezed Dani’s arm. “You’re welcome here anytime. I love it when Zach’s friends come over.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Schultz.”
I noticed she refused Mom’s offer of calling her Loretta. Mom did too, but thankfully chose not to say anything.
“Take care, Danielle. We’ll see you some other time.”
“Sure.” Dani nodded, looking calm, but I could feel tension radiating off her. It didn’t help when Dad stepped up to the table and slung his arm over Mom’s shoulder, kissing her cheek noisily.
“Oh Tom.” Mom slapped his tummy and giggled as he nuzzled his nose into her hair.
I looked away, so used to their teenage like affection. I should be grossed out by it, but it was kind of funny how they still acted like kids sometimes. I grinned at Dani, ready to roll my eyes, but she was still looking at my parents, her blue eyes sad and twitchy.
Flicking her binder shut, she snatched her bag off the floor.
I gently reached for her arm, catching her frantic movements and bringing them to a halt. Her expression changed. The agitation disappeared as she put on the calm show again. Her smile was easy, her eyes light.
Hampering my confusion, I tried to match her grin. “Do you want a ride home?”
“No thanks.” Her sweet voice held so many secrets. Secrets I wanted to uncover.
The urge to ask her where she lived was strong, but I knew she wasn’t going to tell me. I don’t know how I knew, but I did.
“Well, at least let me walk you out.”
I placed my hand on her lower back, guiding her away from my parents.
“Take care, Danielle,” Dad called after us.
A muscle in her back jerked and she shifted away from me. “Will do,” she called back.
I didn’t say anything else as we sauntered to the driveway. Questions were burning, but I kept them back. There was time. Well - one to four months if her dad uprooted them again.
“Hey, do you think your dad will let you stick around until you graduate?”
She paused, a wistful longing sweeping over her expression before she smiled. “Hopefully.”
I wanted to read more, see what else she might show me, but the strong shield went up over her eyes. In spite of it, I couldn’t help asking once more.
“Do you know where you’re going? Are you sure I can’t give you a lift home?”
“I’m sure.” Her nod was firm as she took a step away from me.
I reluctantly gave in. “I guess I’ll see you tomorrow then.”
“You bet. I’m gonna beat you at laps this time.” She called over her shoulder as she started walking away.
I chuckled. “Wanna bet?”
She paused, her blue eyes sparkling as she turned back to face me. “I’m game.”
My eyebrows rose of their own accord as I took a few steps towards her. “Okay.” I licked my bottom lip and crossed my arms. “I win and you come to dinner with me.”
Her lips pursed to the side. “Where?”
“My buddy, AJ cooks at a local restaurant every Friday night. My friends and I go there to harass him.” I wrinkled my nose. “To be honest, he’s actually a really good cook.”
“These friends, are you talking about Liesl and Elliot?”
“Yeah, and Jaeda.”
“The pretty redhead who wears those beanies?”
“That’s her.” I tipped my head with a grin.
A smile nearly reached her eyes as she nodded. “Okay.”
“And if you win?”
“Well, maybe I don’t want to win anymore.” Her voice held a touch of flirt and I couldn’t decide if she had intended to be that way.
My eyebrows rose again.
She blushed, dropping her gaze to the driveway. Her teeth caught her bottom lip, making her look adorable. Man, I wished she wasn’t leaving.
“Come on, let me drive you home.” A last ditch effort.
Her nose wrinkled. Tucking her thumb beneath he bag strap, she shook her head once more. “I like to walk, Zach.”
“No, that’s not it.” I pursed my lips, deciding how far to push it. “You find it hard to trust people, don’t you?”
Her face flashed with something I couldn’t quite make out. Surprise? Fear? I wasn’t sure.
Maybe I shouldn’t have pushed it.
I didn’t feel bad though. I liked her unchecked reactions, it helped me build a clearer picture.
I was in the midst of trying to decipher what she was feeling when her expression was wiped out by a killer watt smile that made my belly quiver. “I trust them when I need to.”
Her words were a warning to back off, the smile putting a glossy coating on the threat. I stepped away from her and raised my hand in farewell.
I didn’t want to watch her walk away and turned before anything more could be said, but then I couldn’t help myself. When I glanced back, I noticed that instead of walking, my newfound puzzle was sprinting down the road.
“Hey! Hey wait! I’m not gonna hurt you!”
Lucy heard his words chasing her, but didn’t believe them. Scrambling into the forest, she ducked through the trees, trying to find a good place to hide. She figured she didn’t really have time to climb a tree. He’d see her doing it. She needed to find a place she could gain some serious speed.