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I huff. “You will not.”
He flattens a hand to his chest. “God dammit, please don’t!” he cries so loudly people stop and stare.
I shove his shoulder and laugh loudly. “Fine, you asshole, but you owe me.”
He winks. “I’ll make it up to you.”
Taking my hand, he starts running down the sidewalk. Grudgingly, I follow him. It’s actually, dare I say it, quite nice. I don’t get far, before he decides he’s bored with running and wants to play. He spins suddenly, and puts his hands up. “How do you feel about a public tickle attack?”
My eyes widen. “You wouldn’t.”
He wiggles his fingers. “I so would.”
I turn and flee, running hard and fast. Trails of laughter flow from my body, no doubt travelling back to him because I can hear his laughter too. He chases me down the sidewalk and people stop to watch us. When he catches me, his arms go around my waist and we topple to the ground. We roll a few times across the grass, before he pins me on my back.
Then he tickles me.
I’m ashamed to say I snort-laugh, a lot. People around us are smiling and kids laugh right along with us, no doubt reliving the joy they felt when someone tickled them. When we’re both out of breath, Mystery Guy rolls to his side and flops down onto his back. Something inside my chest expands. This feels amazing. So damned good. Dating this man would be a real experience, that I know.
“Told you I could make you run,” he says.
“Yeah, yeah, you win. Do you do that to all the girls?”
He snorts. “No.”
I roll towards him. “Do you do this with any girls?”
His brows shoot up. “What? Have fun?”
“For an entire weekend?”
He narrows his eyes. “Never had the need, but sure, if I wanted to I would.”
Something twists inside my chest. “Oh, right.”
We’re silent a minute, then he says. “I’m not tryin’ to be a dick, but I thought we were both clear on what this was.”
I nod, fighting back the pain in my chest. The intense disappointment. “Sure,” I say in a chipper voice.
“You want to get some breakfast?” he says.
I guess that topic is closed.
He jumps to his feet and reaches down, pulling me to him. Something in his face has changed; the playfulness is gone. He’s made his message loud and clear, even without words. This is just a bit of fun, and should be read as nothing more. I can’t deny that it hurts, but he never promised me anything different.
I guess I was just holding onto hope.
I was wrong.
The next week passes with no drama. We all settle into the house, and the heavy awkwardness that was lingering in the air is gone. We’re comfortable, we’re getting to know each other and it feels pretty good. I’ve avoided Blade except during family situations; if he’s around I run out the door before he can catch me. I know he’s noticed and I know he doesn’t like it, but it’s for the best.
I’m not going to keep playing his games.
Tonight we’re having a get together; Mom and Jack insisted that we make a fire and all sit around, bonding. This means that I can’t escape Blade, even if I want to. No matter, there are enough of us that I think I can avoid him without too many problems. I’ve invited Bryce, to Mom’s pleasure. He and I have spent a few days together, and he’s nice. I like him.
I don’t have that same bond with him, as I did with Blade, but I like him and that’s a damned good start if you ask me.
“I can’t decide what to wear!” Melanie moans from my bed.
I’m snapped out of my thoughts, and turn to my best friend.
“It’s a cookout with my family. You don’t need to look amazing, Mel.”
“Brody is there.”
I snort. “Dude, Brody has been here the whole time.”
“Yes, but he avoids everyone. Tonight he’s going to be sitting there, watching . . .”
“Mel,” I say gently, “I don’t think even then he’ll notice.”
Her face darkens slightly, but she quickly wipes it away. It reminds me that sometimes Mel isn’t as bright and bubbly as she lets on. She’s a truly compassionate person, who has her own demons. She feels something when she looks at Brody and that something is pushing her to want to help him, even if he isn’t willing to let her.
“He’s just so . . .” She looks away. “. . . broken.”
“Yeah.” I nod. “He is, but I don’t know if a pretty dress will change that, honey. I think if he wants to open up to someone, he needs to trust them first.”
“You’re right,” she says. “I know what I have to do.”
“That sounds . . . alarming.”
She flashes me a smile. “Trust me. Now, what are you wearing? You have Bryce coming, so you totally have to look nice.”
I wrinkle my nose. “I was thinking of Ugg boots and jeans.”
She scrunches her top lip. “You did not just say that.”
I nod. “I really did.”
“You’re going to wear something nicer.”
I cross my arms. “No, really, I want to wear jeans.”
“Fine, you can wear jeans but they’re going to be stylish jeans. I have a great halter top you can borrow. It’s hot.”