The next morning, I woke up early, as I did most every morning, took my shower, ate a bowl of oatmeal with my hair wrapped in a towel, got dressed and went off to work. My job placed me at the university's library, one of my favorite places in the world. I said hello to the librarians working the reference desk as I walked in and handed the book I had read the previous night to George who sat at the circulation desk.
"Finished another one?" He asked, swiping it under the scanner to check it back in. "This one was wonderful. A real adventure. I think you'd like it." It was more than a passing sentiment. One of my deepest talents was my passion for people. I asked questions for answers, rather than for courtesy, and I remembered those answers. Passionately detached. It was a gift. George truly would enjoy the book, and money would say that he would have trouble putting it down. He chuckled with a glance at the clock, "you better get upstairs.
You're going to be late." His voice was teasing, like he was making use of an inside joke. In a way he was. I was already beginning to move away.
"I'm never late." Passing by the elevators, I made my way up four flights of stairs to the top floor. Before he was out of sight, I glanced back at George.
He had flipped open the front cover and was reading the first page. The library always amazed me. Over one and a half million books on hundreds of topics, plus teaching materials for education majors, VHS tapes, DVDs, CDs from modern pop music to Beethoven to sound effects to Broadway musicals and Italian Operas.
I got to do so many different things while I was there, and I never knew what I loved more, dealing with the books or dealing with the people. When boxes upon boxes of books were donated, I got to be the first to touch them, then go through checking and double checking or making lists.
If someone requested a book from the basement, IRMA as we called it (Infrequently Requested Materials … something.), I was one of the people who got to go down through the hidden stacks and search it out.
So often, with any time I had to search through books, I found myself getting lost in flipping through the pages or scanning the shelf to see other interesting titles near by.
In the summer months, our tasks were more in number and less in organization. That is to say, every day of the week we could start on an entirely new project that we could work on as time allowed throughout the week. As I walked into the back room where the CDs and DVDs were housed, I pulled my cell phone out of my pocket and turned it off. At 7:45 I was officially clocked in, my shift started at 8:00.
Just as I grabbed my "to do" slip from the employee board, the staff elevator opened. Three men in white t-shirts and jeans walked out. They were the painters who had been working on the stair way for the past few days. "Well, hello boys. How goes the work?" "Never quite as adventurous as yours, Charley, but I do get to climb on tall ladders." The youngest of the three teased.
I gave him a smile before continuing back out toward the desk. They walked out the same door as I did to get to the stairway. "But I get to travel to Narnia and back, ride on a Polar Express, fight for lost Grimm relics, discover the secrets of love and creation and the flaws of Utopia, learn magic, travel to distant planets, and battle to save Olympus." I was flipping through a cart of books to be shelved, a far off smile across my lips.
The young one, perhaps a few years older than I, leaned on the desk in front of me, a grin on his face. "One of these days, Charley, I hope I get to know what it feels like to have even a quarter of the passion you do, and maybe have someone look at me the way you look at those books." I smiled.
Only someone without emotion could have avoided feeling a pull at the heart after that sentiment. "You will, without a doubt." "Because everyone deserves to?" "No, not everyone does." I could think of a few who did not deserve such things, and some who got them regardless. "But you do." It was his turn. For a moment, it seemed his cheeks flushed a deep pink, and he could barely suppress a smile.
"Marry me?" It was melodramatic, accompanied with a sigh. I reached out and patted his hand, looking him straight in the eye. "Maybe tomorrow." Four hours later, I was packing up my work at the desk and getting ready to leave. After clocking out, I turned my cell phone back on and slipped it into my pocket again. Back on the main floor, I checked out another book, this time from Josh. "One of my favorites," he commented on my latest choice. "I know how to pick 'em." My phone started vibrating in my pocket then, three short rumbles, telling me I had a new voicemail.
I pulled it out and flipped it open. "Boyfriend summoning already?" Josh shook his head in disbelief. "You've only been off for a few minutes. You sure you know how to pick 'em?" Sam was not what anyone would call popular or charming, especially not in the eyes of anyone who I knew or associated with. True to his much more to his authoritarian presence, he had recently decided to all but forbid me from having male friends, not that I had many friends to begin with, but he managed to feel threatened by any male with whom I spoke more than three words to in any conversation.
I went through the motions of talking to him about showing Matt around campus, not that I would have turned down the responsibility if he told me to, but it took a while for me to convince him that it would be an okay idea for me to help Matt that weekend, especially as the point was that I was asked to because I was the absolute least likely to show any romantic or obsessive interest-- in him.
I gave Josh a bit of a look after his comment, but I had to forgive him. As he was the one who, nine times out of ten, was the one to check out my books, he had been under Sam's scrutiny before. "Have a good weekend." I grabbed my books from the desk and started to move away, looking back before getting too far, "and it's not him." The voicemail from Matt was simple, "Hey, Charley.
Sorry if you're busy. If you're still up for helping me out today, I would really appreciate it. Call me back, or just stop by, I should be home all day. Thanks again. oh! This is Matt, by the way, in case. yeah. Bye." With a slight chuckle, I deleted the message and continued walking toward my apartment. Since my phone had been off when he called, I didn't get a missed call indication with his number and couldn't call him back. I had only known it wasn't Sam because any voicemail would easily be accompanied by at least five texts.
From about a foot away from the door I could hear the music inside. Country was the last thing I expected to hear Matt listening to, but it was turned up to jamming volume. For a moment, an image of him singing along and dancing about while unpacking and organizing swam through my head.
There was nothing to do but smile. I knocked on the door, hoping he could hear it over the music. Instantly, the volume lowered, and a few seconds later the door opened. "Hey there." He was looking down at me with a smile. I had a passing thought that he probably got his way a lot; no sane person would ever be able to resist that smile. I forced myself to think of Sam, of my life, the ring on my finger, of who exactly was standing in front of me and a million other things before speaking, evenly and calmly.
"Hi." For a moment, we stood looking at each other, but I decided to break the tension. "So, Tim McGraw, huh?" "Don't hate on the music." I couldn't help but smile at the playful jab. "Not hating. I recognized the song, didn't I? It isn't exactly on his greatest hits." Matt returned the smile before taking a step backwards. "It's kind of a mess," he admitted, motioning me inside. "I started unpacking, but for some reason my brain wouldn't let me finish one box before moving on to the next." Taking a step inside, I looked around at the scattered newspaper and boxes, things unpacked that had not yet found a home, and an empty pizza box from Gonzo's.
For whatever reason, that last bit sent an unfamiliar jolt through my heart. "Matt. I hate to tell you this. but I think your house exploded." "Very funny." He closed the door behind me and carefully stepped his way across the floor and into the kitchen.
"I'm guessing you got my message?" Following directly in his footsteps, I also made it to the kitchen. "I did indeed. Sounded like someone needs a bit of actual food in here." "The good news is I found my cups.
So, this time I can offer you a glass of water and then actually give you one." His lips curled into a grin as he laughed. I couldn't help but join in. "If I would have known you were coming I would have ordered some food or something. It is about lunch time." Flipping open a cabinet, he grabbed a cup from the shelf. A few steps away from him, I leaned against the corner of a wall, watching him pull a water pitcher from his fridge and begin filling two cups with it.
"Sorry. I would've called, but I don't have your number stored in my phone and since it was off when you called, I didn't get the missed call." "I texted you last night." I nodded.
"My phone has a shameful excuse for memory, so I always clear my texts." It wasn't entirely true.
I always cleared my texts so I didn't have to explain any to Sam. "Wait; did the university give me your number, but not give you mine?" "No. They apparently trust me enough to give me your address and your class schedule, but a personal phone number was just overstepping the bounds." With an amused smile, Matt set down the pitcher and took a step toward me.
Before I realized what was happened, his fingers were slipping into my pocket. My stomach tensed at his touch; it was gentle, yet tickled. His index finger brushed the inner part of my thigh through the thin cotton of my pocket lining, causing me to bite down on the inside of my bottom lip. Slowly, he pulled his fingers out, my phone going with them.
Without a word, he clicked it open and began dialing. I was too surprised to speak. Within a few seconds, he finished what he'd wanted to do and held my phone back out to me. "There," he said, "now you have it." Just before I took it from him, his face showed that he was startled. "Oh gosh. I'm so sorry. That honestly was not like me at all.
I don't even know what possessed me to. Sorry. But um. here. Now you, uh, have my number and anytime you want you can call or. or text, whatever." He ran his fingers through his thick hair, adding to the tousled look he already sported. His eyes turned to the floor with a sigh. Amused, I smiled, trying to hide the surge of electricity that was passing through me as I took the phone from him.
"You know, you really should be careful who you give this out to. I'm sure these ten digits are worth quite a lot of money.
I may come off as completely innocent and trustworthy, but the bubble gum shrine I have of you in my closet suggests ulterior motives." A grin spread wider and wider across his face as I spoke. "You did only meet me yesterday. My crazy obsessive ways are not yet known to you." "If you really are a stalker, I must say, you're quite terrible. It might be best if you kept your motives to yourself." He had popped himself up onto his counter and was sitting with his feet dangling, looking as amused as ever as he sipped on one of the cups of water, sliding the other one towards me.
"Psh, me a terrible stalker? Dude, I'm in your house, and I legally obtained your cell phone number. Pretty sure I'm one of the best stalkers around." I lifted the cup and let the cold water pass over my lips in hopes of hiding my sideways grin. A short moment of silence passed followed by, "touché".
Sam was completely gone from my thoughts. All of the reasons I had given myself as to why I shouldn't have come to Matt's place were irrelevant. "So, you ready to do some shopping?" I nodded my agreement. "I am indeed. Are you?" "Of course. I called you, didn't I?" Making a face at his bit of sass, I gave him sass of my own. "Do you know what exactly you need, or do you plan to wander the store aimle." He pulled a slip of paper from his pocket with a challenging look on his face.
"You really should give me more credit. Remember, I'm not the spoiled brat everyone thinks I am. I made a list last night." I bowed out, wordlessly admitting defeat. Throwing on his hat and sunglasses and grabbing his keys, he set both cups back on the counter and led me out the front door. Very briefly, his hand brushed the small of my back, almost stealing the air from my chest. He locked the door behind us, and I shook any silliness from my head. "Do you ever get tired of having to wear the sunglasses and hat all the time?" I asked a few minutes later.
We were in his car and headed toward the business district of town. He gave me that look again, the assessing one. "You ask the most interesting questions." "Oh. I hope I'm not offending you." The deep, rumbling laugh shook his whole frame while I subconsciously studied every last movement. "No, of course not. It's. most people ask things like 'what's it like being famous', which is so incredibly broad of a question that I don't even know how to answer. Or, 'how does it feel to have everyone love you', and that's just.
such bullshit. The questions are shallow with so little thought. But you ask me questions like 'do you ever get tired of having to wear the sunglasses and hat all the time' or 'what is it about this school that made you want to come here' or 'what is it you want from this school', or asking about my family instead of 'oh my God!
We're so honored to have you joining us' or 'marry me, Matt!' or something else stupid. I don't know. I'm rambling." He took a deep breath and glanced at me out of the corner of his glasses. "To answer your question, I've gotten kind of used to it, but sometimes I just don't want to bother. It's like I said before, people going out of their way and getting into mine. it's inconvenient." "Do you not like it when people ask to take pictures with you, then?
Or ask for your autograph? Turn right here." I pointed down the street. Another deep breath as he turned the wheel. "It's not that I don't like it. It. really it depends on the person. If they go utter frickin' insane, jumping up and down and making an idiot of themselves and drawing all this attention to me, it's pretty obnoxious, to be honest.
Little kids, of course, are adorable, so I'm always willing. And then the people who maintain their composure, ask politely, try to not interrupt whatever I'm doing.
those ones I can handle. I would rather hear, 'I completely believed you in.' whatever, than 'you are, like, so hot!' any day of the week." "You can.uh." I momentarily forgot all words.
"You can pull in right here." Without a word, he turned the car into a parking space and killed the ignition. "Wal-Mart or Target would probably be easier, but you said you weren't doing anything all day and we're much less likely to run into shameless screaming girls here." Lifting the sunglasses from his eyes, he looked at the buildings that surrounded us. "Where exactly is 'here'?" "We're sort of in the 'family owned business' side of the business district.
Local produce, handmade stuff. It's a little bit pricier, but not by much, and. it has a certain down-to-earth charm to it that I thought you might enjoy." Instantly, I got nervous. What if this wasn't the type of shopping he wanted to do. What if he'd rather be at Wal-Mart, getting everything he needed.
He interrupted my thoughts. "This is awesome. Reminds me of home." The smile on his face was very much genuine. Giving me a nod of approval, he got out of the car, dropped his sunglasses back over his eyes and started toward the nearest shop. Household stuff came first. I helped him pick out curtains, a small table with chairs and random other odds and ends. He held the door for me at every shop we went into, and most places we ended up doing little more than browsing, though he expressed interest in coming back later for more things.
By the third one, he had taken his sun glasses off and hooked them to the collar of his shirt. We grabbed cleaning supplies, light bulbs and storage stuff from the hardware store, and by the fifth stop, his hat was in his hands.
Matt ran his fingers through his hair, shaking it around as if hoping it would come back to life. "Here," he lifted his cap up and secured it on my head, "I don't think I need this right now." I only laughed and made a face at him. "My head feels so free; it's awesome." Having bags in my hands, there was little I could do but take it. We dropped the newest load in his car.
"Okay, groceries next.
I know there are still lots of other places down here, but I want to come back when we have more time to explore. That is." He caught himself, ". if you won't mind accompanying me down here again. It's a lot easier with a tour guide." A bag hooked on my ring as I dropped it in his backseat. I looked at it and remembered Sam arguing with me the night before. "I might be able to swing that," I said, not at all sure that that was true. We started off toward the small grocer.
"This place is really cool." He held the door open for me as we walked in. "It's set up almost like a supermarket, with pretty much everything you could need, but it's still.
what's the word. Basically, you have a whole bunch of families that came together and made this store." Picking up a basket, I continued down an aisle, Matt walking next to me, looking down at me as I spoke. "The family who owned the deli, or had a produce stand or." I picked up a jar of homemade jam, ".made their own jam, they all decided to work together in this store.
Everyone's still here, still contributes. It's all fresh and local. even the ice cream is homemade. When the Wal-Mart went up I wasn't here when this happened, but it's what I've heard about most of these families were starting to go under in their own shops. Now, with this them all coming together, they split the bills, the cost of maintenance and it's working so far." I stopped talking and turned to look at Matt, who was staring at me.
It was the strongest look of assessment I had seen from him yet, his green eyes piercing into me. "Did I just. sorry. Boring, I know. I was rambling; ignore me." Slowly, he shook his head, the smallest glint of a smile visible in his features.
"Do you have this much passion about everything in your life, because if you do it must be so exhau." My phone chirped to life, cutting him off. I didn't even have to look down at the number to know who it was. "Oh. uh, here." I must have looked panicked, shoving the wicker shopping basket at him.
"I need to take this." Quickly retrieving the phone from my pocket, I took a few steps away before answering. "Hey, Sa." The greeting was barely out of my mouth before he was barking into my ear, asking me where I had been and who with.
"I told you what I was doing today. Yeah, no, trust me; I remember what you said to me yesterday. Sam, you're being ridic." When he cut me off again, I held up a finger to Matt, asking him to excuse me for a minute. Rather than have an argument right in front of him, I walked outside. "I don't have time for this right now. I'm out. I'm helping someone." His next accusation was barely off his tongue before I snapped. "Yes! Absolutely, you're right. I am having so much sex right now.
Considering the fact that I'm a virgin, it definitely seems completely logical that I would sleep with a guy I've known an entire 24 hours. We're grocery shopping. Yeah, yeah I know. I'm never going to find another guy like you, Sam. I will call you later.
Goodbye." Wishing I had a flip phone to dramatically flip shut, I settled for swiping the red button and forced myself to take a few deep, calming breaths before walking back inside. Matt had collected a number of things into his basket and was currently inspecting a glass bottle of milk. "You can recycle those bottles back here when you're done, and they'll give you a discount on your next bottle." He turned and looked at me, and immediately I knew the question he was going to ask before a single word came to his lips.
"Is everything okay?" I tried my best to put on a nonchalant face. "Yeah, everything's fine." Obviously, he knew I was lying. "Sounded like you were arguing with someone.
I mean. it's really not any of my business; I'm sorry for prying. Just." a nervous chuckled crossed his lips, ".some of the light's gone from your eyes." My heart sank and jumped at the same time. In the split second before I answered, I wondered if Sam would ever be capable of giving me that feeling, or noticing a subtle change in my eyes. "It was just my fiancé. He gets. worried. sometimes. That's all." "Fiancé?
Oh." His eyes fell to my left hand. "I guess I should have figured that by the ring on your finger." I looked down at it, small and modest, glittering in the florescent light of the shop. It barely fit, so tight that it scraped my knuckle if I ever slid it on or off. Although, dragged it on and off would be a more accurate description. "Maybe," I finally said, "but it's no big deal." Matt shifted his weight back and forth as if uncomfortable.
"Do you need to go? I can take you back to campus if." "Absolutely not." With a smile, I stole the list from his hand. "Today is my day to help you shop, and that's what I'm doing." My smile was renewed.
His was small and gentle, but still gave a little jump to my heart. With a nod, he continued to follow me through the store. We carried our final bit of shopping to the trunk of his car, putting the colder items in well planned coolers. Just as I closed my door and began to pull on my seat belt, he turned to me. "Would asking you to join me for lunch be out of the question?
It's almost three and you said you haven't eaten since seven." Such a stretch was usually on the brink of impossible for me. A few hours ago, I would have thought that still being with him after getting a call from Sam would have been impossible, but for some reason, I was. "I could go for some food." I admitted before letting myself think better of it.
A grin that told me he was expecting me to decline slid onto his face. "Tell me what you're in the mood for, and I'll point you where to go." He stared for a moment at the steering wheel, sliding the key into the ignition, but not yet starting it.
"Honestly, I really just want a burger. But not like.
McDonald's burger. I want a real, juicy." I stopped him where he was, holding up a finger. "I know just the thing. But we won't need this." I patted the dashboard before opening the door. Two blocks away, there was a small diner. A few years earlier, it had been the type where the grill was visible in the middle of the floor, but they had since remodeled, making room for more booths and tables.
Even so, it was still one where you could seat yourself anywhere and the waitress would notice. As we chose our seat, a booth toward the back corner, Matt excused himself to the restroom, asking me to order him an iced tea if someone came around. I settled down in the booth, pulling a book from my bag. "Hi, I'm Jessica. I'll be your server today. Can I get you something to drink?" The waitress who stopped at the end of the table was quiet with a timid smile.
"A water, no ice for me, please, and he'll have an iced tea." "Sweetened or unsweetened?" He hadn't gotten that specific. I thought of all of the food he had bought, getting a mental feel for his taste. My mind passed over every piece of food or spice his gaze had lingered over. "Sweetened, please. With lemon, if possible." The girl nodded, jotting a quick note on her pad before giving a smile and walking away. I lifted the book again and turned the page, reading the next few lines of the story.
"Is my presence that boring, you need to bring a book with you to be sure you're entertained?" Matt slid himself in across from me.
"Well, you know. you were just so dull yesterday, I didn't think I'd be able to handle it a second time." Making a face, he picked out a Splenda packet and threw it at me. I whacked it out of the way just before it hit me and managed to put on my best offended face. Plastic made to look like glass came down on our table. "Are you folks ready to.or.order." The slackened jaw and blank stare said everything; she had just noticed who the other person at the table was.
"Charley, what's good here? I'm too hungry to spend five minutes looking through this menu." He tapped the menu against the table, not bothering to open it, nor seeming to have noticed the way our waitress was acting. "Two Superburgers and fries, please. Everything on both." The girl did not move for a moment, still staring blankly, until she shook her head and gave a strained smile, walking back to the kitchen.
For a while, we sat waiting for our food without talking, simply sipping on our drinks. Finally, I decided to ask a question I'd had on my mind. "What are you going to do about work while you're here?" I asked, watching him drain the final bit of water from his cup. "I wanted to ask you yesterday, but you seemed to like staying on the other side of professional talk." He set down the cup and tilted his head, looking at me.
"Is that what people are wondering? If Matt Ringler is leaving Hollywood not to be heard from for the next four years?" "I don't know about people, but I am. Though, you do seem to have a knack for making things I say sound much more negative than how I intend them." His head tilted a bit further, and it looked like he was biting on the inside of his bottom lip.
"You're right. I'm sorry. While I'm here, I want more than anything to just be a student, like any other student, but it's pretty clear that won't happen, especially since I will still be 'working' while attending school." The straw from the ice tea slipped into his mouth.
He took a slow sip. "Mm. This has like. the perfect sweetness ratio." I mentally took a point for myself for getting that he would want the sweetened tea. "If my question was inappropriate, or one you don't want to answer, I retract it completely." Straw still in his mouth, he cracked a smile. "I will still be working.
It was hell trying to get my class schedule focused in such a way that I could get to shooting when they wanted me. I'll be out of here every weekend to go to the set, which is going to be uber fun." He rolled his eyes, and I noticed that he blinked just before doing it, one eyelid opening a fraction of a second before the other.
I gave an apologetic smile. "I work on campus and sometimes it's rough trying to get my life to fit around my schedule. That sounds a bit crazy for you.
Hopefully it's not too rough. A few of the classes you're taking, I've been in, same professors and everything, so if things get crazy and you need some help, I might actually be of some use to you." He started laughing, "Because thus far you've been absolutely useless in every way possible." "You know what." I started a sassy response, but was interrupted.
The server arrived and set our food down on the table, her eyes staying on Matt as she did. "C-can I. uh.
get you anything else? A-another iced tea?" Matt looked up to her and gave a polite smile. "Yes, that would be wonderful, thank you." With another glance upward, he noticed that full attention was on him. The girl looked almost scared, as if unsure of how to handle what she was seeing, or even if she was seeing what she thought she was seeing.
"Charley, do you need anything?" Until he nodded toward me, she did not shift her focus. The timid smile fell from her face, "Oh, goodness, I'm so sorry. I wasn't meaning to ignore you. Can I get you anything else?" Seeing the genuine embarrassment on her face as her cheeks grew bright red, I shook my head. "No, thank you. I'm great for right now." The second she hurried away, I turned my attention back to Matt.
"I think you scared her." A small trace of guilt work its way into his features. "It kind of looks that way, doesn't it?" He turned and followed her with his blue eyes, letting out a gentle sigh as he shook his head. "It's rough. There are so many 'celebrities'." he raised his hands in air quotes, ".
who expect special treatment when they go places. I think I'd be terrified having to serve one in a restaurant, not quite knowing if they're one of those. They're the ones who make people think I brought the paparazzi on myself by being in movies." His voice was hushed, his eyes not quite looking at me as he picked up a bottle of ketchup and began to empty some onto his plate.
"You're not really in the tabloids much, are you?" Twisting the cap back onto the bottle, he set it down with a small clank of glass against wood.
"You're not really one to follow the tabloids much, are you?" A smirk came to my lips at his counter strike. I couldn't help but laugh. "No, but I don't recall ever seeing your face on the Yahoo! top news articles, so that's got to stand for something." His whole frame shook when he laughed, just as it had every other time I had watched him. Once again, for what seemed like the millionth time, he was shaking his head.
"What were we talking about before?" The waitress returned right at that moment with a new tea for him. "How is everything?" This time, she was asking me. I gave her the warmest smile I could manage. "Everything is wonderful. Thank you." She nodded with her own smile before allowing her eyes to flick shyly over to Matt. "Just great." His voice was sweet and genuine, leaving the poor girl almost blushing.
"Great. Good." She turned to start away, but turned back before she moved more than a step. "I'm sorry could I ask." Without finishing, she shook her head. "Sorry, never mind." A clear blush rose to her cheeks as she began, once again, to move away.
Matt swiveled quickly to face her. "Wait. What is it you wanted to ask?" The sweet, gentle tone stayed; even I couldn't help but smile.
The waitress stopped, turning back but still looking scared. "No, it would be rude. Please, I'm very sorry. Enjoy your meal." "Jessica?" Hearing her name stopped her short. Not many people pay attention when servers introduce themselves, and it likely startled her that I remembered. "You can ask him." She turned to look at me before shifting her eyes again to Matt. "I wanted to ask if I could get an autograph, or a picture.something." "Of course." Her head shot up from looking at the floor when he spoke.
"Do you have a camera with you?" Dumbstruck, she nodded and pulled a cell phone from her apron pocket. "Charley, would you mind." Without needing him to finish, I held my hand out for her phone, barely able to suppress my own smile at how gentle he was being with this obviously shy girl. As Matt stood, her face grew even brighter red.
She clearly had only allowed her hopes to rise to getting a picture of him, not with him. It took me a moment to figure out how to snap the photo, but when I did she looked ecstatic, Matt's arm hovering around her back.
Her hands shook as she took the phone back from me. "T-thank you," she said to me first before turning to Matt. "Thanks. And I'm so sorry for interrupting. Really, thank you." With that, and a nervous chuckle, she turned and moved away. As we settled back in our seats, I couldn't help staring at him. "That was really nice of you." He turned to me, looking surprised. "I told you I don't always mind. It didn't look like it was easy for her to ask, and. what? You're giving me that look, what?" "Look?
What look?" My face started getting hot as I wiped it clean of anything he had seen on it before. He smiled at me, knowing there was more than I was telling.
My heart stuttered in my chest before I reminded it to stop. "You were, uh. work," I said. "You were talking about work before, and calling me useless." He smirked, rolling his eyes again in the same manner as before. "Right. Yes, you have proven yourself to be so utterly without use to me. Really I'm tolerating you for this long is because I feel bad about how pathetic you really are, especially since you don't even seem to realize it." I stared at him, blankly, for as long as I could handle before wanting to break into a smile.
Countering my lack of control, I picked a fry from my plate and threw it at him, which he caught. Pushing the fry into his mouth, he chewed for a second before grinning. "These are great fries." Without hesitation, he grabbed a cluster of four or five and brought them to his lips as well. "Remind me to never doubt you when you recommend food. Two for two." "It's a lesson most people learn. I know food, and I love food." As if to prove my point, I picked up my burger, flipping it upside down as I always did, and took a needed bite.
My stomach gave a small growl of anticipation. "You wouldn't think, given how skinny you are." His eyes traveled up and down the portion of me he could actually see. A scoff worked its way out of my throat. "I could probably eat more than you." "That can't even be humanly possible." My heart thumped an extra beat. "But, that reminds me.
This." he motioned toward the food on the table, ". is on me." Before I could begin to protest, he held up a finger. "As a thank you for helping me out.
Please, just let me pay for this. You've done a lot to help, and I really appreciate all of it, even if you are useless" Rather than argue, I gave a small smile and nodded, deciding that it would be best to let him pay if it would make him happy.
"Well, thank you, and it's been my pl. I mean you." With a half cough, half laugh I straightened my words out. "It's been fun showing you around." His eyes lit up slightly. Had I been able to tear myself away from them earlier, I probably would not have even noticed.
"Charley!" The voice was familiar as it called to me from across the room. A groan escaped my lips before I could help myself. "Hey Charley. How's it going?" Matt and I both turned to look at the guy standing at the edge of our table, dressed in the tough clothing of a mechanic.
"It's going fine, Trey. What's up?" "Oh, you know. I just got off work, Sam told me to bring you home." All I could do was stare, in complete disbelief, disbelief that slowly turned to annoyance. "He told you to bring me home? I have a ride already; that's how I got here. How did you even know where I was?" "You know Sam. He likes to keep eyes everywhere when he can." Despite the anger taking over the cold knot in my stomach, I did what I could to stay calm.
"You're serious?" "Who's Sam?" Matt asked, looking between the two of us. Trey gave one of his smug, annoying smiles. "Sam is this girl's fiancé. Did you forget to mention you were engaged, Charley?" "I didn't realize that needed to be part of my introductory speech, Trey, but yes, Matt is aware that I'm engaged. Look, could you please just tell him you didn't find me? I'll be home in an hour." "You're fiancé sends people to retrieve you from social settings?" I couldn't answer, only look at him, embarrassed.
Trey, meanwhile, was shaking his head, looking almost sympathetic. "You know I can't do that. Sam wants you home, so I've got to bring you home." I looked at the small bit of burger and few scattered fries that lay on my plate. The ghost of laughter still hung in my mind, laughter from talk of his family and random teasing. Laughter rarely ended in a gentle slope, but more often an occurrence, something that plucked it out of the air and left only a dry outline in its place.
I looked at Matt, seeing the confusion in his blue eyes, and wanted nothing more than to hide my head under the table.
"I'm sorry. I really should go." I stood then, lifting my bag over my shoulder and securing it around my neck. "Do you know how to get back from here?" Matt nodded, face still overrun with confusion. "Yeah, I should be able to figure it out." "Okay, good. I'll see you later, then. Oh, and here. let me give you some money for the bill." "No, no. I already told you it was on me." Had Trey not been there, watching everything and probably going to report back to Sam later, I might have let it be, but I couldn't.
"Really, here." Pulling a ten from my wallet, I set it down on the table. "I'll see you when classes start." There was nothing more to be said.
I let Trey lead me out the door.