Looking at the caller ID of my cell phone I cringed and sent the call to voicemail.
I know. Something was seriously wrong with me.
Anyone with half a brain would’ve told me so, and I’d be inclined to agree with them. My phone beeped twice, indicating I had a new message just as I aimed to slide it back into my pocket. Curiosity got the better of me and I slowly took a seat on the bench a few feet away from the candle shop in the mall, which Bree and Audra had disappeared into about five minutes ago. Dialing voicemail, I closed my eyes and listened to the sound of Luke’s voice. It was the fourth time he’d called me in a week. Only the second time he’d left a message.
“Alright.” He sounded firm. Decisive. Pretty fucking annoyed. “I’m not trying to sound desperate so I’m not calling you anymore. I just had to ask--what’s your deal? Unless something’s wrong. If something’s wrong call back and tell me you’re okay. Unless you have amnesia. If you have amnesia, I’m Luke, and my number is...”
Even angry, he had the ability to make me smile. Which is why I was such an idiot. After meeting Rory over the phone I’d walked myself to Luke’s room, Chey on my heels like a nervous babysitter. After squeezing past more dog houses I’d stepped into a small but organized room. A decorative blanket doubled as curtains to keep most of the light out. The closet door was open but his clothes were hung neatly. Car keys, his wallet and a pair of sunglasses sat on the nightstand, and the bed looked orderly even with him in it, blanket folded down to leave a beige sheet to outline his sleeping form.
He slept on his side, one hand raised to cover half his face. It seemed like a natural pose to him, and with tousled hair, relaxed muscles and smooth, exposed back he looked like something I wouldn’t mind crawling into bed with and snuggling up to.
At the time, that had been a disturbing thought. There were only two other people that came to mind that I’d ever felt that way about. It had happened shortly after meeting James. The first time I spent the whole night with him. The intimacy of sleeping. To know I’d wake up with someone next to me. Him next to me. And then there was Jude, but that was different. Before Quinn I crawled into his bed all the time just for the sake of being able to reach out and know someone was close in the middle of the night. Maybe looking for that kind of comfort from James had been a mistake. After all, the sex had been more comfortable with him than having to stay on my side of the bed or else.
So maybe I didn’t have the best judgment when it came to wanting more out of a guy than instant gratification. Maybe I shouldn’t be thinking about Luke like that. Only one problem. I already was. I was looking for reasons to be suspicious of him. Looking for reasons to think that I was wasting my time in falling for him. Because falling for him was pretty fucking scary.
Maybe that’s why I’d decided to get out before someone got hurt. Like me.
And this was probably the pussiest way I’d ever gone about anything. Ever.
I wasn’t this guy. I was the one who’d answer a call just to say things weren’t working out. Scratch that. I was the guy who purposely sought out other guys who I knew wouldn’t call at all. And it was all to avoid situations like James. Like this, with Luke. Because I really didn’t want to find out if he was another James.
I couldn’t bring myself to delete his number. Couldn’t block his calls. What I could do, was push the call-back button when voicemail gave me that option.
“Hello?” There was a slightly bewildered tone in his voice, as if he knew it was me but couldn’t figure out why I was calling.
Silence. I guess it was my turn to speak. Luke had obviously said everything he needed to in his message. I guessed he was waiting for an explanation.
“Sorry I haven’t called... I got really busy.” Bullshit. The excuse was a lame one. I didn’t doubt he thought that, too. But somehow I couldn’t bring myself to admit that I’d been blowing him off because I was afraid of developing any real feelings for him.
“Really? I haven’t seen you at the park.”
That’s because I purposely started going to another one.
“School’s been keeping me pretty busy,” I amended. “Sorry I haven’t called.”
My voice sounded hollow, even to me. Made me wonder why he didn’t just hang up on me.
“But you’re calling now,” he pointed out.
“Yeah.” So was that it? Was all forgiven? If we hung up now, would I ever even talk to him again? I could sense the underlying questions between us. It felt the same as needing to have a good healthy argument with someone but holding it back. Frankly, I didn’t know where to go from here. Just that I’d called him, so I had to admit that part of me wanted to.
“So some lady called yesterday, wanting some work. She said she got my number from you.”
“Which one?” I asked, grasping at the opportunity to pretend the tension wasn’t there.
I nodded like he could see me. “She has a beagle.”
“You gave out my number?”
“I took some of your cards,” I admitted. “I thought it would be alright.” Now I worried that it wasn’t.
Luke laughed. “It is. I was just surprised, is all.”
“Can we meet?” he suddenly asked.
“Uh...” I glanced towards the candle shop, where Bree and Audra should be finished shortly. “Now?”
“Yeah. This might sound kind of stupid, but I feel like... I can’t really talk to you unless I’m looking at you. You know?”
I swallowed, understanding perfectly. He wanted some kind of reassurance. It’s not that I didn’t think that Luke had feelings, too, or that I was any less capable of hurting them than the next person. But truth be told, sometimes when I was out with him I felt like he was out of my league every time someone else smiled at him. I’d felt the same way with James. Hell, even when I was with Jude and Quinn I felt that way. I hated that about myself, especially now as I was feeling surprised that Luke was asking for this. But...
“It’s kind of a bad time. I’m shopping for a friend’s birthday. I rode with someone else, so I can’t really get out of here yet.” Liar, liar pants on fire. Nothing was wrong with my legs and I doubted there would be after walking a couple blocks to his apartment.
“Yeah? Whose birthday?”
“Um, his name’s Jude. We’re supposed to celebrate this Saturday, so I’ve gotta get the shopping out of the way.” I frowned, realizing I hadn’t really mentioned any of my friends to Luke. Just Audra, because I lived with her. This was unusual for me. Made more so by the fact that Luke was exactly the kind of guy I’d like to throw up on my shoulders and parade past everyone I knew, all the while shouting, look what I’ve got!
And when he responded, he sounded like he knew all that.
“Uh-huh. So why don’t I come meet you?”
“Yeah. Why not? I can help you shop and maybe after we can find something around there to do.”
“Oh... well...” I paused as I spotted Bree and Audra coming towards me, bags in hand and smiles on their faces.
“Taylor, look what I got...” Bree started.
As I stood from the bench, I turned away from her briefly and spoke into the phone. “Look, like I said, it’s not a good time. I’ll call you later, okay?” and risking the chance that he might not answer that call, I hung up on him and turned back to my sister and Bree, who were now both looking at me funny.
“Who was that?” Audra asked.
“No one,” I said.
“Luke?” Bree asked. “Are you still seeing him?”
Audra raised a brow, as if she were eager to hear the answer to that question. I decided to change the subject.
“What would you have gotten Jude in there?” I asked.
Bree frowned. “Nothing. But I got this.” She held up a very girly unicorn candle holder.
“And I got this,” Audra said, waving a scented candle under my nose that made it turn up. “Your room needs all the help it can get.”
“Ha-ha. But what about Jude, any ideas yet?”
“What’s your hurry?” Bree asked as we started walking again. “Luke?”
“No. I just don’t feel like spending all day at the mall.” I must have sounded too defensive, because they both laughed at me.
Bree rolled her eyes. “So what are you getting Jude, Mr. Cranky?”
I shrugged. “Sex.”
My sister blanched. “What?”
“Not from me,” I said, and then decided to explain. “I’m getting Quinn some new porn. He’ll watch it, Jude’ll get lucky, and he’ll like my gift best.”
“Eww, Taylor that’s my brother you’re talking about,” Bree informed me, giving my shoulder a shove.
“Hey, it’s not my fault kinky runs in your family,” I remarked, and then loudly whispered, “I know about the handcuffs in your closet. You know, the fuzzy ones.”
Bree’s mouth dropped open indignantly. “I do not have...” She stopped, realizing that sometimes to say nothing was her best option. I’d just twist everything that came out of her mouth. Thank god that for the most part, she liked that about me. Shaking her head in an attempt to clear it of my obnoxious harassment, she hooked her arm through mine and turned us towards a shoe store. “Never mind. I’m here to shop. Less talking. More buying.”
“Does Jude have any interests?” Audra asked.
“Yeah,” I helped. “Quinn.”
“Pretty much,” Bree agreed.
“Maybe I’ll get him something for his apartment,” Audra mused.
“That’s pretty safe,” Bree said. “Just stay clear of the kitchen. My mom got him everything he could ever use there when she tried to cook dinner for him and Quinn over there before she realized he had nothing that she could actually stick in the oven.”
“That still leaves options,” Audra said optimistically.
“Like sheets,” I suggested. “You get him the sheets, I’ll get him the sex, and we can say it was from both of us.” They both pretended not to hear me, so I shrugged. “Since no one needs my help, I’m out of here.”
Bree spun on me then. “Luke?” she teased, batting her lashes and making kissing gestures.
In response, I narrowed my eyes at her and stuck out my tongue. Then I pointed at Audra, warning her not help Bree.
“But you didn’t even drive here,” Audra pointed out.
“So I’ll walk. You guys call me when you know what you’re getting for Jude so I can tell you how much better my gift is.”
“ Taylor, Eww!” Bree reminded me.
“It’s also not my fault it’s fun to picture your brother naked,” I informed her.
“Oh, you can go away now,” Audra remarked.
“Happily,” I said, gracing them with a smile before I got out of there. The two of them managed to leave me in a light mood most of the time, but this one only lasted until I left the mall, as soon as I realized that I wasn’t going to change my mind about where I was going.
A little bit
I must have walked faster than I meant to, because before I knew it I was in front of his door, wiping a sheen of sweat from my brow as I reached out and rang the bell. Luke had every right to think I was a lunatic, so it wasn’t at all a surprise when he opened his door and stared at me, arms crossed and brow knitted. Disappointed. I could see it, and it turned those instant butterflies I felt looking at him into uncomfortable knots. They became worse when it started to look like he didn’t even want to let me in, but then he stepped aside, his arm waving me in impatiently as his free hand went to push at the blond locks falling over his forehead.
I was slow moving as I moved past the door, holding out my hand for Chey so she could issue her standard greeting of slobbering all over my fingers.
“What are you doing here?” Luke asked, his tone suggesting that it was unexpected in a bad way.
I met his eyes as he closed the door. The lines of his face seemed a little harder than I was accustomed to seeing, his blue eyes were defensive and it looked like he’d had his fingers in his hair most of the day.
I tried smiling. It felt more like a grimace.
“You said you wanted to see me,” I tried.
Luke only looked at me as if he wasn’t buying it.
I let out a breath. Sometimes apologies were difficult for me, like I couldn’t quite get the words past my lips if I didn’t have a good excuse to follow it with. In this situation, I had no excuses at all. “I didn’t mean to hang up on you like that.”
His blond brow drew up sharply, his crossed arms tightening, flexing the muscles of his arms and making his t-shirt appear more snug against his chest.
And obviously, he didn’t plan to say a damn thing until I hung myself.
“Alright...” I tried again. “I shouldn’t have hung up like that. If you thought I was blowing you off... I mean, I don’t want you to think I’m trying to avoid you, it’s just that...”
“You’re avoiding me.”
Shit. “Yeah. Maybe a little.”
I closed my eyes momentarily, mostly to hide, and when I looked again Luke was moving across the living room, his eyes no longer on me as he reached for a bottle of water he’d left on the counter and took a few swallows. I couldn’t tell what he was thinking. Couldn’t read him for shit. There was a slight stiffness to his shoulders, and I couldn’t help wondering if he was trying to hide from me a little bit, too, as he looked over his apartment, at anything he could but me. I found myself following his gaze, over the floors, the sofa, the mismatched recliner...
“Will you let me ex....” I paused as something came to my attention, and found myself frowning as I realized that his place was clean. Not that it was ever dirty... but now it was... clean. And missing quite a few building materials and... no doghouses. “Where are...”
“I moved them.” He shrugged, looking over the room as if he didn’t know what to do with it now that there was room to walk. “This guy I share a couple of classes with has a house. Doesn’t use his garage because he’s close enough to campus to bike it. He’s letting me work out of it. Rent’s cheap.”
Luke was silent for a minute, and then asked, “So is this better?”
I looked at him. “Huh?”
“I figured it all scared you off,” he explained. “That maybe you thought I was a freak or something.”
I stared at him, slack-jawed, for probably an inappropriate amount of time. Who would have thought someone like him would care about what I thought. Yes, I’m aware of how completely lame that sounds. But to look at him... he was the kind of person who turned heads. I had no doubt that he was used to getting what he wanted, who he wanted. But it wasn’t just the way he looked, it was the way he looked. He had confidence. Could smile at strangers for no reason and throw them off balance, all because they were probably wishing he’d do it again. I knew the feeling. I didn’t doubt for a second that he had his choice of friends. Hell, his choice of guys. Three weeks of trying to run into him at the dog park and I’d still been under the impression that I’d never stand a chance. Maybe that’s why I’d thought it best to just steal that kiss. It’s also probably why it was so hard for me to accept that my withdrawal over the last week was bothering him. I wasn’t like Luke. I figured I was easy to get over. James obviously thought so. And for Luke to put thought into what I thought of his apartment... what I thought of the way he lived...
I felt like a fucking ass for him thinking I’d be that much of a.... snob.
“I liked all the clutter... I mean, I like this, too...” I found myself babbling, not wanting him to think I was now complaining after all the trouble he took to move everything out. “It didn’t bother me... and you’re not a freak. Trust me, I know a thing or two about freaks, and you... this is not the reason why I haven’t been calling you,” I finally said, waving over the area.
“Yeah. You said you’ve been busy,” Luke said. There was a coldness in his voice as he plopped down on his couch and lifted the remote, turning on the television as if to dismiss me and any other excuse I might have. I felt helpless as I watched him abuse the remote control with his fingertips, obviously not paying attention to what he was trying to do because he kept flipping the same two channels back and forth. “What I don’t get... is how you were busy twenty minutes ago but not busy now.”
“I told you, I was shopping with some friends...”
I took a step towards the sofa but stopped when his eyes snapped to mine. “I need to ask you a question.”
I blinked. “Okay...”
“Your friends, do they know about you and... other guys? Like, they know you’re gay, right? Because when we’ve been out I get the feeling you don’t give a shit who sees, so...”
“Yeah,” I cut him off, wondering where this was going. “I don’t keep it from them. No reason to.”
“Okay. So that’s not why you didn’t want me to meet you today?”
Luke sighed, as if exasperated that he had to explain things to me. “So, was one of your friends another guy? I mean, you obviously have the right to see whoever you want, but it would be nice to have a heads-up about it, you know?”
I couldn’t help the sudden laughter that bubbled up, and had to do my best to bite it back. Luke didn’t seem to appreciate it. “I’m not laughing at you,” I said quickly, finally brave enough to take a seat on the sofa. “It’s just, if you had any idea...”
“So... give me an idea,” Luke said when I failed to keep talking. “Because I’ve gotta tell ya, you’re confusing the shit out of me. When I met you, I didn’t know what to think of you. But, turns out I like you. In fact, I like you so much that for the last month I’ve spent every free moment outside of school and work with you...” Luke paused, shaking his head at himself. I just sat there feeling stupid. As frightening as developing feelings were, It hadn’t felt like we were seeing a lot of each other. But then, my free time, and his free time varied on a level I hadn’t taken into account. “Look, Taylor, obviously you’re here, so I’m thinking that we’re doing something, but...”
“If it helps,” I said quickly, turning my knees towards him, “I like you, too, and there isn’t another guy.” Hell, even if there was I doubted I’d get through one date without wishing I was with the hot blond that smiled against my mouth when I kissed him and liked it when I stared at his ass in public. Besides, even if my only attempt at a real relationship had been with James, I’d never been the type to go behind anyone’s back, and no one else had ever lasted long enough for me to have to worry about more than one guy at a time. Jude had once told me I was a slut, but then said I was at least an honest slut. Still don’t know if I should be offended about that.
“Then... why are you afraid to introduce me to your friends?”
“It’s been over a month,” Luke pointed out. “I mean, I only know a few people around here, and I don’t really hang out with them, but if I did...” he paused, frowning. “Why does it seem like every time we go out somewhere I get the feeling we’re only going places where you go... with me? I mean, you know I like to get outside, so we’re doing that a lot... movies are movies... I wanna get to know you. I want... to go somewhere where you like to go, with people you like to hang out with.”
“Oh.” That sounded simple enough. Except it really fucking wasn’t.
“So?” I repeated, lost as I considered what he was asking.
“Are you going to tell me why that’s been a problem for you?” he asked.
Because I don’t want you to meet my friends. They’re mine, and damn it, I’ll tell them the same thing about you.
“It’s not a problem,” I insisted, wondering if I should start carrying around toilet paper for all the bullshit that came out of my mouth. “It’s not,” I repeated when he didn’t look convinced.
Luke turned his attention to Chey when she rested her head in his lap and he rubbed at her wrinkled forehead. When he glanced at me again, his eyes were softer, lashes heavy over the blue as his tongue ran over his bottom lip. “Yeah?”
“Yeah,” I agreed. “We can go somewhere I like to go... whatever.” Whatever, I just wanted to do things with him. At least that was honest. And now that I could admit it to myself, I wondered how I was going to go about avoiding the butterflies without ignoring his phone calls.
If I only had a brain
If Luke had a super power, I think it would be his ability to smell good all the time. He was musky and clean. And maybe there was a little bit of wood chipping and Chey in there, too. But it was always pleasant, regardless. His car smelled like him. His house smelled like him and his jacket smelled like him as I buried my nose in the collar of it and closed my eyes. He was still wearing this particular jacket, and I think it was my breath on his neck that made him tremble and hold onto me a little tighter.
I felt his fingers at the nape of my neck, and then his thumb at my jawline, turning my face until his mouth came into contact with mine. Second super power. He tasted good after finishing off a plate of super salty fries. But maybe I just didn’t notice because I’d eaten some, too.
I felt his tongue flick against mine for the briefest moment before his mouth moved up over my cheek and finally pressed a kiss to my forehead. “I don’t think we’re fitting in anymore,” he whispered.
“So?” I didn’t see his point. I liked the feeling of lightheadedness developing as I pressed my body closer to his, absorbing warmth and the sensation of every contour beneath his clothes becoming physically visible as they rubbed against me. Sliding my hand down from his back it came to rest against where his jeans sat low on his hip, my fingers curling beneath the edge of the denim.
I might have pulled him closer by his pants, because a huff of amused laughter escaped Luke before he kissed me again. Unfortunately, when he pulled back this time he meant business, moving his body a safer distance from mine, which gave me the opportunity to regard our surroundings more closely.
The club was loud tonight, and hardly the best environment for a slow dance, though as I found myself following the lines of his body from beneath his tight-fitting shirt to the snugness of his jeans against the developing bulge in his pants, I might have needed more convincing on that point, because I reached for him again. Luke took the opportunity to slip his hand into mine, bringing me to meet his eyes. There was a soft expression to his face, the ever-present amusement still in his eyes, the slight upwards slant to his temptingly kissable mouth. I was so glad we’d decided to do this. At least, I had been until he led me over to a table, sat me down and walked away to get us something to drink.
The moment he left me alone the spell of simply being near him was gone, the comfort level I’d felt since our conversation at his apartment eluding me just as quickly. Guilt was setting in as I looked around, knowing I had him convinced that this setting was something I wanted to share with him. Because the truth was, it wasn’t.
At the time it had seemed like a good idea. He wanted to get to know me. I doubt he had in mind he meant he wanted to know where I went to pick up guys when the urge struck. It still hadn’t seemed like such a bad idea when we were able to have some fun right off the bat. Ninety percent of the patrons in the bar were gay, leaving the atmosphere open and friendly. Luke had loved it. He’d smiled at me, laced his fingers through mine and walked into the club with me. Together. This was the same club I’d met James at, and now I was all too aware that when we’d come here he’d be with me... for all of ten seconds before he saw someone he just had to talk to and I got ditched.
Luke was a completely different experience. Even in the crowd I got a glance back. A smile. When he found a shorter line elsewhere he gestured so I knew where he would be. He was there with me, and it showed. It made me wonder why the hell I’d brought him here.
Smile on his face.
It was all so wrong.
It was the setting, I realized as my eyes followed a brunette passing my table, smiling at me. I felt defensive. Maybe it showed, because he didn’t stop. Good. Protective might have been a better word. Of me. Of Luke. Of whatever this was. It felt insulting, to have brought him there. I wasn’t sure he would have thought I was very rational had I brought it up, so I had no intention to. Too early into the relationship for him to figure out what a lunatic I can be.
I wished he’d just come back to the table. If he did, maybe the anxiety I was suddenly feeling would go away.
My eyes sought him out, and I found myself frowning momentarily when I couldn’t see him at first. Too much of a crowd. Too many bodies clashing on the dance floor to sort through.
But then there he was, accepting two bottles of vitamin water from a waitress without even looking at her because he was looking at me. Under the dim lights, at that distance I couldn’t make out the blue in his eyes, yet I knew it was there because I couldn’t picture him without it. Blue. Perfect. So fucking hard to read. Especially now, because he wasn’t smiling anymore.
There was something in his expression that seemed distant. Burned. Like he’d just read my mind and knew I didn’t really want him there. Not this place.
Reason told me that all I had to do was tell him I wanted to leave. We could walk out the door together, away from my past, and I’d escape the dark feeling that was slowly coming on, slowly smothering me.
Having acquired beverages I watched him move towards me, and then I watched him stop, his weight shifting from one foot to another, a more calculating expression crossing his features. I found it bothersome, felt myself moving to the edge of my seat, frowning as I gave a small wave. He didn’t seem to see it. He was looking in my direction, but not at me.
A forearm suddenly blocked my view of him, and I resisted the urge to outright shoo it away as I attempted to look around it, but a shadow was looming now, Luke was gone, and the scent of a familiar and pleasant cologne invaded my nostrils. I forced my eyes up, unable to avoid the inevitable.
His eyes were still green. Why wouldn’t they be? But somehow, they’d lost some of their shine. The thought relieved me as I leaned back in my seat, suddenly aware of every little expression that crossed my face as I tried to maintain control. Tried to look as nonchalant as possible. I must have failed miserably because his lip turned up the way it did every time he got exactly what he wanted.
“What did you do to your hair?” James asked.
My fingers twitched where I held my hands carefully under the table, wanting to run through it in an act of insecurity. For a second I pictured myself looking the way I did the last time I looked in a mirror before switching from black to red. Too pale. Too tired. Not at all flattering.
I swallowed any explanation I might have given him in self-defense, and was proud when I forced myself to narrow my eyes. Look unfriendly. “What do you want, James?”
His handsome face turned disapproving. He didn’t like my tone. Good. I think.
“Are you seriously still avoiding me?” he asked. His hand slid across the table, too close to me. He wanted to touch me. I leaned further back in my seat, knowing that to tolerate even the slightest contact with his fingers would be a mistake. I think for a second I actually believed if it happened I’d feel an unimaginable jolt and the next thing I knew I’d be back to taking out trash and wondering when he was going to call me. I felt myself take a deep breath.
“We’re kinda over,” I said, wishing that my voice sounded stronger than it did. I felt myself looking over my shoulder, half wishing that Bree would appear in a puff of smoke and chase him away. She’d do a better job than I was doing.
“Doesn’t have to be that way,” James insisted. “It was nice when we were... friendly. Remember?”
His voice sounded more seductive than it had when we were together. I didn’t know if I should resent it, or run screaming from it. All I knew was that as he pulled out a chair to sit down, my level of alarm skyrocketed as I tried to remember every example of why that was a really, really bad idea.
“Don’t do that,” I heard myself say. Good. I hadn’t gone comatose yet. But my attitude seemed to need an adjustment when it came to the temper that I knew should be flaring right now. It peaked somewhat when it became clear that he wasn’t going to listen to me.
But he did stop, only it wasn’t because of me.
I caught the beverage that suddenly slid across the table in my direction, because not doing so would have put it right in my lap. I looked up and stopped breathing around the time I could see Luke again, smiling again. I tried to mirror it, but couldn’t even get my mouth to turn up. I probably looked creepy for a minute there, but that was hardly a concern as I studied the blond for any sign of tension and found none.
Except for his eyes. Maybe his eyes were a little harder, but it could have been the lighting. Probably was the lighting. My frown deepened as I realized he was looking at James... James was smiling at him, and I knew the effect of that smile. My ex was suddenly a threat in more ways than one, and before I could stop myself, I swung my foot under the table, aiming for him.
I cussed when all I hit was a cold, hard table leg. They both looked at me. James smug, Luke questioning. But no one asked for an explanation as their attention turned back to each other. James made the first move, his hand out as he introduced himself. Luke responded in kind.
“Do I know you from somewhere?” James asked him when I finally remembered to breathe.
“Probably not,” Luke replied. “I’m good with faces, and haven’t been around here that long, anyway.”
James full out grinned, amusement lacing his voice. “That explains why you’re hanging out with Taylor.”
I might have been insulted by that if I wasn’t so concerned with the way James was still holding Luke’s hand.
“Who are you again?” Luke asked, his hand sliding away from James’. I felt instantly better, until I looked up and found that Luke’s smile had changed. He looked predatory to me, head cocked every so slightly, as if to feign interest--very convincingly--in every word out of James’ mouth. I might have believed it, too, if the glance Luke suddenly gave me hadn’t been so cold it shocked me back to my senses and I stood up.
“James is...” I started, but froze up again when they both looked at me expectantly--Luke for longer than James, whose eyes moved back appraisingly to my date, and not in a way that suggested he was checking out the competition. Something about that hurt me more than I cared to think about. But I suppose it was to be expected. James always did like pretty things.
“We’re friends,” James finished for me, eyes still on Luke. “So when did you two meet?”
Luke didn’t answer, but suddenly gestured to the chair James had been pulling out. “Wanna sit down?”
Oh, fuck that.
“Actually, guys,” I said, “I’ve gotta get going. Early morning tomorrow.”
James looked smug as he glanced my way. The same way he’d looked the night we met when he interrupted a conversation with another guy I’d just met. It had been obvious who he’d been interested in then, and that guy had given up easily. I hadn’t thought much of it then. I looked at it a whole lot differently now. I wasn’t going to be that guy. Just picturing Luke with James... James with Luke... it was a miracle that it didn’t turn me on, but not so much of one that it actually made me feel sick.
“Can you still give me a ride home?” I didn’t hesitate to ask Luke.
He looked at me like he found that question particularly baffling, and I felt ashamed to be equally surprised by his quick response. “Yeah,” he said as he lifted the same bottled drink he’d just placed on the table and gave James a friendly nod. “Um... nice meeting you.”
“Yeah,” James replied, not bothering to show the irritation I knew he was feeling. “I’m here a lot. Maybe I’ll see you again. In fact....”
I winced when I ground my teeth together so hard that it pained my ears like nails on chalkboard. Sonofabitch. Asshole who I wished a curse upon, or at the very least, a nice case of genital warts.
I watched Luke carefully as James picked up a napkin, and with the pen he never left home without, wrote down his phone number. There was no indication from the blond that he was annoyed as he patiently waited, and the small smile that crossed his mouth felt unpleasantly devastating as James handed it over.
“Call me if you ever wanna hang out,” James told him, and then whispered, loud enough for me to hear, and way too close to Luke’s ear, “I can show you a few things Taylor can’t.”
Again I looked to Luke for a reaction. Any. But there was none as he turned his attention away from James to glance at me before he led the way out of the club.
It wasn’t like it had been coming in. There were no smiles, glances, whispered conversation or touching. I was there alone again. Only this felt worse than being abandoned, left to my own devices, because all I wanted as we walked out into the cool night air was for Luke to turn around and look at me. Show me that what had just occurred meant nothing. At the very least, I wanted him to slow his pace to indicate he wanted me walking with him, but he didn’t bother stopping until we’d reached his Jeep.
He went straight to the passenger side, turned then, like he was blocking the door. Blocking me out. He didn’t seem so unreadable now. The creases in his forehead, the way his blond brows were drawn down as he chewed at the inside of his lip all made it impossible for him to hide his agitation.
I took a step forward, and when his eyes narrowed on me in warning that he wasn’t ready for that, I ignored it and took another step as I slid my hands into my pockets.
“I didn’t know we’d run in to him,” I said. I knew I should be apologizing for something. Like the fact that I never should have brought him to this particular club in the first place. If there was nothing for me to feel guilty about, then I probably wouldn’t have been thinking about it before James ever made his appearance. But why explain, when Luke, on some level, looked like he already understood that?
“You still don’t want me to meet your friends,” he finally said, more acceptance in his tone than anger. “That’s why you brought me here... Did you at least think we’d have a good time?”
“I wanted to,” I said honestly.
Luke made a move towards me this time, the toes of his boots stopping less than a foot from mine. “I was,” he admitted, voice dropping subtly. “Is he the reason why you couldn’t?”
“It’s not like that,” I said quickly. I withdrew my hands from my pockets, but avoided touching him just yet. “I was having a good time with you. It’s just...”
“Him,” Luke said. He glanced away just briefly, as if it would hide the frustration that crossed his features. “Is that who you’re waiting for me to turn into?”
“What?” I wasn’t sure what else to say. Too stunned to think of more when he’d just thrown out the biggest thing I never wanted to admit to him. When his expectant gaze didn’t relent, I felt myself swallow and tried again. “Listen, it’s hard to explain... James...”
“How long were you with him?” Luke interrupted.
I sighed. “For a while.”
“How long ago?”
“What does it matter, Luke?” Maybe I had no right to it, but I was feeling irritated, too. I didn’t want an interrogation. Not now. Not when I wasn’t thinking clearly enough to know if I’d been hurt by James again, or if I was just angry with him. Not when I wasn’t sure if Luke even had a right to that question.
“How long ago?” he repeated, his voice becoming something close to a whisper, his blue eyes giving away that regardless of whether he had a right to it or not, the answer was important to him.
Realizing this made me not want to tell him. But then at this point, it was the least I could do.
I felt like I’d sealed my fate with that bit of honesty. Probably would have thought it was pretty fucking stupid, too, if I wasn’t there to see just how much my revelation bothered him. Maybe it even cost him something. I didn’t understand it, but I understood the look he gave me perfectly. So perfectly, that his next words were almost entirely unnecessary as he rocked back and forth on his heels.
“Um... could you... do you mind getting another ride? I’ve gotta... go.”
My first thought was that it wouldn’t be anything to walk home from where we were standing. But that faded just as soon as he turned and I realized he wasn’t waiting for a response. My hand reached out, fingers taking the sleeve of his coat. Saying nothing, he glanced back at me.