“What’s your last name, Emerson?” he asked.
Dark eyes with gold shards flecked throughout drilled into me. “You’re trouble, Emerson Wingate.”
Funny. That’s what I had been thinking about him since we first met. And yet here I was. Talking to him. Baiting him. Even though I felt like I was skating on thin ice around him—one sudden move and I’d go plunging under—I was here.
“I know. I’m not your type, right?”
The air felt suddenly thick and I wished I could grab those words back, stuff them down my throat. I actually sounded like I was fishing for him to say he liked me. That he cared.
For a second I had forgotten he wasn’t my type—I was so focused on him. On the fact that he found me thoroughly resistible. I’d let that little fact get under my skin. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
With him, I couldn’t be in charge, and I needed to never forget that.
“I don’t have a type.” His deep voice rumbled across the few inches between us.
I nodded dumbly, humiliated, but relieved that he wasn’t going to protest and play along with me by insisting I was his type. “But if I did, it would be you.”
I gawked at him, shocked. If he didn’t look so displeased at his admission, I’d think he was complimenting me. Or flirting.
My phone rang and I pulled it out, grateful for the distraction. I cringed when I saw it was my mother. I pressed the mute button.
“No one you want to talk to?”
“Just my mother. I don’t need to talk to her.”
“Not close with your mom?”
I shrugged. “Are you close with yours?”
“Yeah. She raised me all alone. My dad was never around, so it was just us and my grandfather growing up. I haven’t seen her much since I got back. She married and moved to Boston.” The corner of his mouth kicked up and my heart gave a stupid flutter. I just got an almost smile. “But I take her calls at least.”
I bit the inside of my cheek, resisting the urge to defend myself and explain just how different my mother was from the kind of mom who baked cookies and made her kids lemonade. My mom was the type who stood by as her daughter was hurt and then insisted she forget it. She wouldn’t have worked a job and raised me all on her own. She wouldn’t have made such sacrifices.
“Aren’t you the good son?” The words came out scratchy and a little raw. I couldn’t help it. Thinking about my mother put me in a bitchy place.
“So why don’t you take her calls? What’d she do? Cut your allowance?”
“Ha.” I crossed my arms. “You really don’t know me.”
“Well, now I’m intrigued. Tell me about life in your ivory tower, princess.”
I inhaled through my nose, almost tempted to lay it all out there. Just so I could wipe that smirk from his face. But that lasted only half a second. In five years I hadn’t told a soul what happened. Why would I begin now?
Why would I begin with him?
“Why are you even still talking to me right now?” I snapped.
“You’re the one who ran out here after me.”
“And you’re still here. Why? You don’t like me.”
“I didn’t say that.”
“Oh, that’s right. If you had a type, I would be it. What does that even mean?” I angled my head and uncrossed my arms, propping my hands on my hips. “I’m f**kable but not anyone you’d want long-term? That it?”
He didn’t even flinch at my bald language. Nor did he rush to denials either. “You’re . . . interesting.”
I laughed. “Is that what you call it? Maybe you’re just hard up, soldier boy? Fresh off the boat and—”
“I wasn’t in the navy.” His voice got all flinty, but I kept going. Kept talking even when a part of me warned that I should just shut up.
I shook my head. “Tomorrow you won’t even remember my name, my face—”
He stepped closer, eyes scanning me. “Emerson Wingate. Dark hair with reddish highlights. Bright blue eyes.” His gaze dipped, roaming over me. “Hundred ten. Hundred fifteen pounds. Your hands . . .” He plucked one of my hands up, pressing his palm flush to mine. He considered our kissing palms, my hand so much smaller than his own. The tips of my fingers barely passed his middle knuckle.
“Beautiful hands.” My chest tightened at his deep voice washing over me. “Slender. Fine-boned but strong. Like they play an instrument. Piano maybe?” His eyes locked with mine. A dark eyebrow arched in question.
“I-I paint,” I admitted.
He smiled as if he had just solved some kind of puzzle. “You paint,” he echoed and continued, marking characteristics like he was reading off a chart. “Skin smooth. Pale. A tight little body perfect for tying guys up in knots.”
My eyes shot to his face and I yanked my hand away from his. I rubbed my palm against my thigh, still feeling his touch there. “Go to hell.”
“Temperamental.” He gave me his half smile. “See? I’ll remember you.”
And then he was gone.
I stared after his retreating back, his figure dark against the mostly white landscape, broken up by only concrete and vehicles.
I exhaled, unaware that I had been holding my breath. I told myself I was glad that he was leaving. Glad that I wouldn’t have to see him again.
Turning, I headed back inside the house, wrapping my arms tightly around myself as if that might somehow make me feel less cold. And less empty.
I WAS GRATEFUL WHEN Monday rolled around just so I could distract myself with the routine of the week. There was no expectation of me going out. I didn’t have to work so hard to be the me that I had created ever since I started here at Dartford. Friday loomed ahead like a visit to the gyno. Something you didn’t want to do, but you knew you had to. If I didn’t party it up on the weekends, if I stayed in, then everyone would think something was wrong with me. That I was sick or depressed. And nothing was wrong with me. I worked hard to convince everyone—myself included—that nothing was wrong with me. I was happy. Really.
My week ran its normal course. I still barely made it on time to classes, slipping in and finding my desk at the last second possible. I dodged my mother’s phone calls. The afternoons I spent in the studio, losing myself in my work so much that I sometimes lost track of time.