The Benefits of Being Friends
It wasn't complicated, our arrangement. We had sex. Fantastic sex. But there I went, making things difficult, falling for the guy who stayed up with me long after his roommate had gone to sleep.
Sometimes I get an idea, and I don't actually know where it's going until it's finished. This is one of those times. I've been sort of uninspired lately, but today I just couldn't stop typing.
With that being said, it's a tad long… :D
I fought the urge to kick him in the shin. My foot wouldn't venture any higher though. Some girls take the low road and kick guys in the testicles because they know it makes them hunch over and groan in inconceivable pain. I, on the other hand, would never inflict a pain in which I cannot endure myself. The male population and I have an unspoken agreement: I will refrain from kicking them in the balls so long as they never make me suffer through childbirth.
However, Caden Smith was giving me every reason to revoke my silent ode to mankind for one swift blow to the nads.
"You're actually pretty hot," he continued after offering his name followed by a cliché pickup line. My eyes clinched shut. A dull pain, the early stages of a headache, reared from behind my eyes. Resisting the desire to rub my temples, I sighed. And he finished - with flourish - "You know, if you're impartial to boobs."
I tried to move around him and make my way to the keg so I could refill my beer. I didn't know anyone at this party, and my roommate had dragged me here so she didn't have to come alone. She'd only been on two dates with Mark from her psychology class and had successfully convinced me to come along so she wouldn't 'look lame' by hanging off his arm all evening. Though not five minutes after we'd shown up in his living room Mark had spotted her and hauled her away from me. She'd texted me a few minutes after, saying she was going to see his room. I suppressed an eye roll. Not because of her hooking up; no, Kiersten was more than capable of doing whatever she pleased. I wasn't exactly her moral compass… but I didn't understand why I needed to stay if she wasn't here anymore.
But I didn't have anywhere else to be. And I'd come to the conclusion that maybe if I were less sober this party wouldn't be so maddening. Caden, I decided, would be just as irritating no matter what my state of mind happened to be.
He smirked. "Relax. I'm kidding."
"Oh." I frowned, the pain in my head escalating. "So I'm not hot?"
"No." Caden shook his head, lips curing into a smirk as his eyes dropped unapologetically from my face to my body, which was clad in a pair of jeans and a tank top. Nothing to write home about, but I did subconsciously straighten my posture under the weight of his scrutiny. "You're certainly that."
"I wish I could return the sentiment, but it would take a lot more alcohol in my system to find you attractive."
It wasn't a lie. Physically, yes, Caden wasn't completely unfortunate looking. His dark blue eyes were rather nice - certainly expressive - and they contrasted pleasantly with his short brown hair and tanned skin. He was slim and athletic looking. Probably a soccer player. Maybe lacrosse. But his personality left something to be desired. Since I'd run into him on my way to the garage he'd introduced himself, insulted me, and then openly checked me out.
"So." His head cocked to one side, ignoring my comment entirely. "What's your name, anyway?"
"Ritza." As a force of habit, I added, "Like pizza."
He squinted at me and I sighed.
"I thought pizza was Italian."
"My name." I could feel the scowl on my features, my teeth gnashing painfully. My headache had upgraded from 'dull pain' to 'throbbing agony'. "Ritza is Greek."
"Ah." He took another sip from the plastic cup in his hand and a thoughtful expression encompassed his features. "Caden is … I'm not sure. I think my mom made it up."
"Lovely." I sidestepped any further infuriation with a calm, collected smile. Lifting my empty cup, I shook it for emphases and said, "I'm going to get a refill."
He didn't say anything, simply nodded. I almost felt bad as I brushed past him and caught the look in his animated blue eyes. It sort of resembled hurt.
The desire to turn back and apologize shriveled up and died the moment I stepped into the garage and my eyes landed on the person currently occupying the keg's tap. If it had been a movie music would have started in the background, movement would have slowed, and a slight wind would have ruffled his clothes.
A god among men. Not even men - a god among immature, buzzed college guys. It wasn't even fair. There really was no comparison.
My feet carried me towards the Adonis, a sexy smile curling my lips. This horrid party, it turned out, had a redeeming quality. And it was looking delectable in blue jeans and a red button-up.
"Hi," I said, reaching for the tap and filling my cup to the brim. I was too concerned with making eye contact to keep the cup tilted properly. Foam coated the top inch of my beer, and I frowned.
"Hi," he echoed, his eyes on me as he took a drink from his own plastic cup. His long fingers gripped the flimsy material and his throat muscles worked as he swallowed. Lowering the cup back to his side, he tipped his head in greeting. "Brian."
I no longer cared about foamy beer.
"Ritza," I answered, trying to keep the smile on my features. It took a good deal of effort. Any minute now I felt as though it would go slack and I'd be standing dumbly with my eyes wide and my mouth open, just looking at him. Not my normal reaction to spotting a good-looking guy, but Brian was far from normal. "Like pizza."
He didn't smile, exactly, but the muscles at the corners of his mouth flexed. Oh what I wouldn't give to kiss that perfect mouth…
And apparently I didn't have to wait long. We made small talk for all of three minutes before Brian leaned forward and pressed his mouth to mine. My lips parted in shock, which he took as invitation to slide his tongue inside. And then I was kissing him back.
It was probably too long of a kiss for a party, especially since we were blocking the keg. Fortunately I'd never had a lot of give-a-damn, even if I wasn't the world's biggest fan of PDA.
When he pulled away, he smirked. "Sorry." There was nothing apologetic about his tone. "You just seemed like you wanted it."
I blinked. Had I really been that obvious? Hm. I tried to ignore the spark of annoyance at his smug tone, but it was easy to avoid after his lips curled to another brilliant smile.
We didn't do much talking after that. He watched me as I finished my drink and his eyes remained on me when I played a round of flip cup with a group of girl's I didn't know. Halfway through the game, he slid up beside me, his hand resting lightly on my hip. He didn't remove it for the remainder of the party.
Later that night, after Brian rolled off me and promptly fell asleep, I frowned up at the ceiling. His bed was comfortable and the sheets smelt clean, but I was a night owl and there was no way I was getting a wink of sleep anytime soon. Sex and beer, while the equivalent of a narcotic for most, only made me alert and jittery.
Carefully, I rolled out of Brian's bed and tiptoed across the room, finding my clothes in a pile near his desk and sliding them back on. I cast one last look at the sleeping specimen of male perfection on the bed and grinned before moving out into the hallway and towards the living room.
I froze the instant I rounded the corner.
The television was on and Caden Smith sat on the couch still dressed in the jeans and faded blue t-shirt he'd been wearing at the party. He looked surprised to see me, but his shock melted to amusement as he continued to stare openly.
"Ritza," he said after a long period of silence. Appraising me, the amusement in his features heightened. "Like pizza. Right."
"Uh." I swallowed. My hair was mussed and my clothes rumpled from lying in a heap on his roommate's floor. "Hey."
Caden's lips twitched to a smile. "Slipping out?"
"No," I replied honestly. My eyes darted to the empty loveseat but I remained rooted where I was. "I just couldn't sleep."
"Ah, yeah." His head bobbed in acknowledgement. "Sex and booze will do that to you."
A grin tugged at the corners of my mouth but I fought it off. Caden wasn't funny, and I shouldn't have been so amused by his near-verbatim echoing of my thoughts from earlier. "They do, actually." I shifted my weight to the balls of my feet and sighed. "Mind if I sit?"
"Not at all." And he looked pretty happy saying it. So I took a seat on the loveseat adjacent to the couch he was sprawled across and we slipped into silence, watching a rerun of Tosh.0.
A thought plagued my mind, and I cast Caden a look from beneath my eyelashes. He was smiling, his dark blue eyes lighting with amusement as the soft hues of the television cast shadows and tricky light across his face. I chewed on my lip for moment, unsure if I should voice my concerns, but even if he were annoying and immature he did seem rather trustworthy. And not judgmental in the slightest.
"Think Brian will mind if I'm here in the morning?"
"No," Caden answered, his blue eyes darting to meet mine. My headache was gone and I couldn't deny that they were rather striking. His expression was relaxed, honest, and I expelled a heavy breath. "He's an ass, sure, but not a complete one."
"I don't have a car here," I explained. I'd been with guys who wanted me gone and others who would be rather put-off by my disappearance in the middle of the night. It was a tricky thing and seeing as to how I didn't know Brian at all...
He smirked. "I could drop you off if you wanted to flee the scene of the crime, but I assure you Brian isn't the kind of guy that expects his hookups to be gone in the morning."
Satisfied by his answer, I turned my attention back to the TV. After another stretch of silence, Caden spoke up,
"If I'd have known earlier that you were a sex-on-the-first-date kind of girl, I would have bothered you longer." I tried not to smile, but this time I couldn't seem to win and the grin broke out. I opened my mouth to respond but Caden continued, "Shit. I'm starving. Want dinner?"
A look at the digital clock on the cable box said it was three in the morning. I laughed. "Dinner?"
He shrugged flippantly. "Midnight snack?"
My head tilted to the side as I observed him. Caden moved towards the kitchen area, which in the open floor plan of the small apartment was in the same space as the living area.
"It's past midnight."
"Dammit Ritza, do you want something to eat?"
I laughed and replied honestly, "Yes."
He pulled out a box of macaroni and a pot and I felt my stomach rumble. I prayed he hadn't heard the unruly sound from his position in the kitchen before reminding myself that I didn't care what Caden thought of me in the slightest. And besides, he seemed concentrated, his forehead creasing as he read the instructions printed on the side of the box.
Ten minutes later, Caden handed me a bowl filled with macaroni and cheese - the delicious store-box kind that was frighteningly orange in color - and dropped back onto the couch with a bowl of his own. In silence, we continued to watch TV. At some point I put my empty bowl on the coffee table and laid down on the loveseat. It was short and I had to bend my legs, but it was comfortable.
I awoke to a warm hand on my shoulder, rousing me from sleep and making me shoot off the loveseat I'd been sleeping on. Blinking, I met the dark eyes of Brian, and smiled sheepishly.
"Didn't want to sleep beside me?" he asked, frowning down at me.
I smoothed my hair and winced. "Uh, no. Sorry, I couldn't sleep so I came out here and watched TV." I glanced over and saw that Caden was asleep on the couch. He'd given me the only blanket and was sprawled out in his jeans and t-shirt, one hand falling off the side of the sofa while his head rested against the pillow. I grinned at the way his mouth hung open, not quite snoring, but his breathing labored and audible. "I must have dozed off…" I shot Brian an apologetic smile, but he was too busy glaring at Caden to notice. "I didn't mean to."
"It's fine," he said. Shrugging, he picked up the couch pillow I'd been using and lobbed it at his roommate. It hit the other boy square in the face, and with a groan of protest, Caden's eyes slowly blinked open.
He frowned at Brian and then glanced at me, his expression morphing to a smirk.
I straightened and smiled tightly at Brian.
"I'll take you home," he said, grabbing his keys off the coffee table and moving towards the door. And as we started towards his care he handed me his phone. "Let me get your number. We should do this again sometime."
Eagerly I typed my number into his phone and called my own. The moment I felt it vibrating in my pocket I hung up.
"Good," I grinned, handing back over his cell and watching the way the rays of sun reflected in his blond hair. "I had fun last night." And despite the shitty party, I really had.
The Thursday after Mark's party, I lay on Kiersten's bed, flipping through one of her Cosmos with a sigh. I didn't dare sneak another glance at the corner of the room where Kiersten sat perched on Mark's lap, giggling as they acted like I wasn't in the room.
Rolling my eyes, I continued to thumb through the magazine until my phone pinged, signaling a text message. Too engrossed with one another neither looked over and I was thankful that they couldn't see the uncharacteristic blush staining my cheeks.
It wasn't like I hadn't had a one-night stand before. But it also wasn't like I made a habit out of leaving parties with random guys. That's why as Brian's name flashed across the screen, I eagerly opened the message and my smile widened.
Do you have class on Friday?
I quickly replied, No, my eyes never leaving the screen. Thankfully his response was instantaneous.
Good, it read. My heart did a little summersault. Hm. I usually wasn't so giddy about guys, but Brian was just so physically perfect that I didn't overthink it. Come over.
It wasn't exactly a question, but I responded with a short okay anyway. It didn't matter that he was rude and pushy and uncaring if I'd had any prior commitments besides not having to be up and at class in the morning. But maybe he was onto something because, really, was there anything better than Brian?
"Alright, I'm off," I said, getting to my feet and causing Kiersten and Mark to break apart.
Sulking, Kiersten turned from her position on Mark's lap to face me. "But we were going to watch a movie tonight."
"You'll be fine without me."
My roommate had wanted me to get to know Mark properly, but I figured that could wait for another day. Besides, they looked to be having a much better time without me.
Two hours later, I found myself in familiar position, lying across Brian's beige sheets and staring up at the ceiling. Chewing on my lip for a moment, I sighed and rolled over.
He was laying there, upper body exposed along with one of his legs which was tangled in the blankets. A thin sheet covered his manhood and I grinned as I studied his sleeping features.
Once my feet were on the plush carpeted floor of Brian's room, I gathered a pair of his athletic shorts and rolled the waistband a couple times. They still hung down to my knees, but at least they fit around my middle. And then, after snapping on my bra and pulling my tank top over my head, I quietly opened the door and padded out into the hallway.
I would be lying if I admitted that I wasn't hoping he'd be awake. And thankfully there he was, sitting on the couch playing Xbox.
"Have anything that's not a first-person shooter?" I asked, apparently startling him because Caden jumped, his eyes darting in my direction. The shock quickly melted to amusement, and shaking his head he replied,
"I do. But let me finish this map first."
Making myself comfortable, I took a seat on the couch beside him, my eyes trained forward on the video game he was playing. When he was done, Caden turned off the controller and twisted to face me.
"Yeah, and I couldn't sleep."
"Brian give you a lot to think about?"
Rolling my eyes, I answered, "Can we talk about anything else?"
"Sure." Caden chuckled. "What do you want to play?"
The boys had a fairly impressive setup. Several game consoles and scores of games to go along with each. It rivaled my family's back at home, which was saying something considering my two younger brothers – a high school sophomore and a seventh grader – did little else but play Xbox Live.
Crouching in front of the selections, I scanned the various games until pilfering what I was looking for. Mario Kart – a staple of every collection.
Caden chuckled as I put the game in, not bothering to ask if my choice was okay with him. Mostly because I didn't care and partly because I already knew it was. For some unknown reason, I could read him like a book.
Settling back on the couch with a Wii remote I waited as Caden selected a track. We made idle conversation, chuckling and poking fun at one another for the next hour or so.
He found it amusing that my tongue poked out the right corner of my mouth and that I bit down on it gently as I wielded the nunchuck. Patting my knees, Caden would laugh and instruct me to relax. And I couldn't help but snort at the colorful curses Caden developed when he was behind.
"Shitty dicks!" he exclaimed, to which I shot him a glare and pulled past him.
It was nice, I thought, just hanging out with Caden. He reminded me of my brothers in a way. I could certainly see the three of them getting along. I cast him a sidelong look as he celebrated his victory, and I wondered if perhaps my first impression had been wrong. He was infuriating, true, but in a quirky, charming way. Maybe having a male friend – someone I could chide like I so often did my brothers and laugh along with as they teased me – wasn't such a bad thing.
Music pounded from the speakers of an iPod dock. It wasn't loud, exactly, but I tended to find any loud noises a nuisance. And while I wasn't yet suffering from a pounding head, I did reach up to swipe the back of my hand against my forehead just in case.
"Everything okay?" Kiersten asked. Her brown eyes met mine and I could see the worry etched so clearly in them.
Waving away her concern, I shrugged. "I'm fine. Just not a big fan of the music."
Mark, who had his arm swung around my best friend's waist, nodded. "I hear you there."
Apparently he wasn't that opposed to rap, because not more than five minutes later he allowed Kiersten to lead him to the makeshift dance floor. Frowning, I turned to fill up my cup but paused as I spotted Brian across the room, watching a game of beer pong. He had his hand resting on the hip of a petite blonde, much like the way he'd done the night we'd met, and though she stared up adoringly at his perfect countenance, his dark brown eyes were fixated on the game underway.
I wondered briefly as I filled my beer if I was supposed to be jealous. We certainly weren't exclusive or anything, but I didn't feel even the slightest pang of envy as I caught sight of the way he moved his thumb over an exposed patch of her tan skin.
Not being jealous wasn't all that new to me, really. It shouldn't have come as such a surprise. I hadn't had a steady boyfriend since high school. Paul Craft – the man I once thought I was going to marry. Unfortunately his football scholarship to a Tier II school brought on an unanticipated wave of fame and temptation. The likes of which he was too 'much of a guy' to resist. Since then I'd flirted, dated casually, and had the occasional fling. Nothing serious, but it wasn't like I went around sleeping with multiple people at the same time. And I certainly didn't make it a habit of letting guys feel me up at parties.
Taking my beer out onto the porch, I rested my arms against the railing and closed my eyes. It was rather refreshing breathing in the clean air after being trapped inside the cramped, smoky house. Although out here even the sweet scent of pot didn't escape my senses. I turned my head in the direction of the smell and caught sight of two guys flipping through the pages of a Playboy while passing a joint.
It was times like these where I wished we hung out bars rather than parties. But for some reason Kiersten didn't like pubs and I hated the pounding music at clubs, so we'd found a middle ground here.
"Hey," a familiar voice called from behind me. I turned and gave Brian a slight smile.
"I didn't know you were here." He closed the distance between us and settled beside me, one strong arm propped at the elbow against the cool metal of the porch. "How are you?"
With a shrug, I replied, "Fine."
"I didn't know you knew Stewie."
Apparently the guy who lived here was named 'Stewie'. I frowned slightly. "I don't."
"Oh." He nodded, and then one of his brows lifted. "Want to get out of here?"
A grin lit his handsome features as I pushed off the railing and followed him inside. The blonde he'd been looking so comfy with earlier shot me a furious glare which I did my best to ignore. Apparently some of the women in Brian's company were capable of being jealous.
As we entered the parking lot I texted Kiersten to let her know I was leaving, and then looked up casually and met Brian's gaze.
"Is Caden here?"
"No." He opened his door. "He had a date."
I nodded, once, and slid into the passenger side of his car. He didn't touch me until we were inside his room, and after he was done he situated himself on the other side of the bed and refrained from talking or touching until I could hear the quiet sounds of his breathing.
Turning my head on the pillow, I watched the way his long lashes swept forward in a dramatic way I couldn't seem to achieve even with the help of expensive mascara. He was undeniably attractive, but I couldn't shake the feeling that nothing was going on between us. It shouldn't have bothered me, I reminded myself, getting into a sitting position and shaking my head.
Of the five guys since Paul left me, I hadn't once contemplated where things were going. Or how it was empty. Or why I wasn't more attracted to him even though he was quite possibly flawlessness taken human form.
Once on my feet I slipped on my underwear and clasped my bra, catching glimpses of Brian as I pulled on my shirt and buttoned my jeans. Biting my lip, I paused at the doorway and cast him another fleeting look. It'd never bothered me, thinking myself a heartless slut, because I knew I wasn't. I often joked about it with Kieresten – my lovable roommate who wanted nothing more than a husband – but now as I stood there with my hand hovering inches from his doorway, I contemplated leaving and never returning his calls. Maybe something more substantial would help heal the hollow hole Paul had left. The hole I'd convinced myself was better left untouched.
"Hey," I called, feeling the grin inching its way across my features. Caden turned his head towards me and his blue eyes brightened a fraction.
"Reetz," he greeted, closing a text book he'd been reading and setting it back on the coffee table. "Couldn't sleep?"
"Never can." I grinned and entered the kitchen. "Go back to studying, I didn't mean to distract you."
"I was about done anyway."
I shuffled through the guys' pantry, pulling out a bag of chocolate chips and flour and sugar. Opening the refrigerator I was vaguely surprised to see eggs and a carton of milk, both of which were still clear of their expiration dates.
"Wow. You actually have food," I commented. Glancing up I met Caden's stare and grinned. "It's my turn to make you a midnight snack."
Caden's lips twitched to a grin. "It's not midnight, Reetz."
Rolling my eyes at him throwing my words back in my face, I asked where he kept his bowls and pans and was pleasantly shocked when he sprung to his feet and assisted me in making chocolate chip pancakes.
Once the stack was settled between us, we sat on the pair of bar stools and ate.
"These are amazing," he managed through a mouthful. "You should make all the midnight snacks from now on."
I made a face. "Chew first, then talk Caden."
He stuck his tongue out, which still held bits of chewed up breakfast, and my nose wrinkled.
"Okay." He frowned, taking a sip of milk and shooting me an apologetic glance. "I apologize; that was gross."
"It's alright," I said. "It actually reminded me of my brothers."
"Brothers?" he asked, taking another forkful of pancakes.
I reached for the molasses and coated my second helping with the thick, syrupy goodness. "Yep. I have two and their favorite hobbies include eating, playing video games and giving me a hard time."
Caden beamed. "Sounds about right." After a moment's pause, he continued, "So, you're becoming quite the permanent fixture."
With a shaky nod, I wondered briefly if I broke things off with his roommate whether or not Caden and I could continue to be friends.
"Kind of strange," he noted casually. "Brian usually goes for blondes."
I thought back to the girl from earlier. "Sounds about right." And then, changing the subject I shot him a curious glance. "I heard you had a date."
He gave a hum of affirmation but didn't elaborate. Cutting off a triangle of pancake, I realized I was glad. Because I really didn't want him to.
It was two weeks before I ended back at Brian's. We hadn't run into one another on campus or out around town, and that evening I'd been eating with Kiersten and Mark and had been taken back when he'd texted me, asking if I wanted to come over.
I knocked against the door of his and Caden's apartment, glancing casually towards the parking lot for lack of something better to do. The moment the door was flung open, his lips were on me. I blinked in surprised but quickly felt my body take its natural course and complied, leaning into his hard, warm chest and resting my hands on his back.
When Brian pulled away, he grinned. The porch lights caught his white teeth and dark eyes. The lust reflecting in them made my knees weak. My heart may not have pounded when he looked at me the way Kiersten described it was supposed to, but there was most definitely a large dose of attraction.
"I missed you," he murmured against my neck, pulling me inside.
I knew as he led me to his bedroom that he didn't mean anything more than him missing my body, but I didn't mind. Casual, no-strings-attached sex was a two way street. I was just grateful that he wasn't professing his deep, unexplainable feelings for me.
"I missed you, too."
Brian surprised me then. Usually by this point in the evening we'd be done talking. However, he paused, his fingers on the hem of my shirt, and asked, "Do you mind?"
I blinked. "Mind?"
"The meaningless sex?"
Taken aback by his blunt words, my brain fumbled for a moment. It didn't seem like he was trying to make a proposition for more, and surely he wasn't questioning my feelings about our arrangement. On more than one occasion, he'd clearly articulated how much my casual attitude towards sex meant to him.
My lips opened and then closed, before I finally managed, "No."
"Good. I hate clingy girls." His warm hands were on my stomach now, trailing slowly upwards. A part of me wondered why we were still having this conversation. "And when I told Caden he got all pissy and said I should treat you better."
He stopped talking after that. But for some reason when I should have been thinking about his lips on my collarbone and my hands on his chest, all I could reflect on were his words.
Why would Caden give a damn about how his roommate treated me? And what gave him the right to evaluate mine and Brian's relationship anyhow? Was it because he was starting to take the brotherly role I'd cast him seriously? For some reason, it didn't seem to fit.
"Hey," I said, rounding the hallway and spotting the tall brunette rummaging through the pantry. I wondered briefly if he was ever in his room, but he turned around at my greeting and fixed his eyes on me. They were blue and oddly unsettling. Bright and expressive, I wanted a closer look. Thankfully I had more than a little self-control and remained rooted where I was.
"Hungry?" he asked, turning back away from me and shutting the pantry door.
I bit my lip. Caden was still watching me, his short brown hair oddly in place and his faded red t-shirt unwrinkled. It hugged his shoulders the same way Brian's did, but I didn't think too hard about that. Inhaling, I gave a small nod and admitted, "A little."
Caden beamed. "We don't have any food, but we could grab something."
And that's how I found myself sitting at a booth in the Taco Bell across campus at one thirty a.m..
I tucked one ankle under the other and picked up my taco, watching as Caden dumped a pack of hot sauce between us before unwrapping his own.
"So, what's up with you and Brian, anyway?"
A frown creased my features and I shrugged. "He asked me tonight if I minded our arrangement of meaningless sex."
"And do you?"
I was going to berate him on him questioning mine and Brian's relationship, but instead I sighed and admitted, honestly, "I'm not a relationship girl. I like things to be nice and easy. And relationships are…"
"Messy and complicated?" he offered.
"Something like that." I chewed on my taco as I thought. Once the bite was swallowed, I asked, "You go on a lot of dates Caden. Do you have a girlfriend?"
"No." His blue eyes darted up to meet mine before dunking his burrito in the sauce.
"Oh. Me neither." I paused and smiled slightly. "Well, I've never had a girlfriend," Caden arched a brow and I laughed, "I just mean, I don't have a boyfriend. It's been a long time since I've had one."
"But you have had one before."
It wasn't a question. I nodded.
"So you do actually know how normal human relationships work?"
I tried to hide the hurt from my features. For some reason his words stung. Apparently I didn't do a very good job concealing it, though. His features fell and fumbled for words.
"I," he frowned, "I didn't mean it as an insult. I just see all these girls falling over Brian and I wonder…"
My head tilted to one side, hoping to urge him on. Caden sighed.
"You aren't like them. You're cool and smart and funny. I don't know why you'd settle for someone who doesn't see that."
I felt my face flush but hid it by taking a long sip from my Mountain Dew. I didn't blush often, but then I realized maybe it was because I didn't often have reason to. Apart from being called hot on occasion, I couldn't remember being complimented. Cool, smart and funny all at once? It was too much.
When I lifted my gaze to meet Caden's, I smiled. It was small and probably reflected the strange meek feeling that was spreading through my chest. And I wondered as he returned my smile with a blinding one of his own if being with someone who was more like Caden and less like Brian wouldn't be such a bad thing.
Kiersten tapped her foot impatiently.
"I hate lines," she muttered. Mark laughed and kissed her forehead affectionately. They were so sickeningly sweet that it caused me physical pain.
"I know." Mark rubbed her back and pulled away. "How about you two go inside and buy some popcorn. I'll wait out here for our tickets."
We pulled out of line and Kiersten smiled.
"He's the best, isn't he?"
I shot her a blank look. "Totally."
"Oh cut it out Ritza." Kiersten rolled her eyes as we started towards the door. "You don't have to be such a downer all the time. You've just got to find the right guy, and then you'll understand how great having someone in your life can be."
"I do have someone in my life," I interjected. "You."
She winked as we got into the back of the line for food. I grunted to myself. I thought Mark had sent us here to get out of waiting in long queues. So much for having a boyfriend to make life easier…
The theater was crowded for a Thursday night. My eyes scanned the groups of people idly as Kiersten – as she so often did – thought aloud.
"Do I want a large coke or an extra-large? Mark usually drinks half of it, but I hate having to get up to pee… And you usually end up eating half my popcorn."
And then I spotted him. My posture straightened and my eyes widened. I could feel a grin tugging on the corners of my mouth, and without a word I turned to a few yards back in line where Caden stood.
He was clearly on a date. The brunette at his left was at least five inches shorter than me and I felt like a giant just being in her vicinity. I was five eight and though relatively tall for a girl it had never been an issue. Until I saw the girl standing over a foot shorter than Caden, looking impossibly cute and comfortable at his side.
"Hi," I greeted with a wave, and when both sets of eyes flashed over to meet mine I took a few steps in their direction.
"Reetz!" Caden greeted, turning towards the still smiling girl at his side. "Sarah, this is Ritza. Ritza," he motioned to her and she gave me a small nod, "Sarah."
"Nice to meet you." I grinned. "I'm surprised. You're way too cute for him."
Sarah looked oddly pleased by my friendly banter. I could tell by her wary gaze that she wasn't quite trusting of me, but I had to credit her ability to hold a pleasant smile.
"So, how do you two know one another?"
Caden and I exchanged a long glance at his date's question. I waited for him to come up with something witty to define the relationship we'd developed. I certainly was having trouble expressing just what exactly we were.
"She's sleeping with Brian." There wasn't even a smile in Caden's voice. His blue eyes seemed cold and distant, and I frowned. I had begun to think of him as a friend. A really good friend, actually.
"Well," I said, trying to sound cheery. Rolling my eyes as playfully as I could muster – as though my insides were clinching with injury – I grinned. "I didn't mean to interrupt. Have a good evening."
Mark entered and I joined him, meeting Kiersten and trying to hold my painful smile as they discussed drink and popcorn options.
My heart had an odd heaviness to it, and I couldn't shrug the feeling that I was jealous. Jealous over a guy who I clearly had no claim to. Jealous because I'd spotted him on an innocent date. It was wrong, wasn't it?
Thoughts of Caden and Sarah plagued my mind during the movie, and afterwards my fingers reached for my phone. Clearly, I needed a diversion. Of their own accord, they typed out a message to Brian, asking if I could come over.
When I told Kiersten where I was going, she frowned.
"I don't like this guy, Ritza."
"I know." I gave her a quick hug before making my way to my car. I wasn't sure what else to say because, honestly, I wasn't so sure I liked him much either.
Thankfully Brian provided a welcome distraction. Until, of course, he fell asleep and I padded silently into the living room only to find it empty of the one person who I wanted to see most.
Settling on the couch, I wrapped the blanked over my bent legs and flicked on the television. I watched old reruns and rested my chin on my knees. It was nearly an hour when the front door swung open and my eyes darted towards the entryway to see Caden toeing off his shoes.
He blinked as he caught sight of me and we exchanged silent nods.
My gaze followed him as he crossed the living room and disappeared down the hallway where his room was. I thought the strange friendship we'd formed had crumbled completely, until he reentered the living area and took a seat beside me.
He had changed his shirt but still sported a pair of faded jeans. They were the same blue as his eyes, but I avoided looking at those. My insides had been through enough that day and I didn't think I could bear it. Not knowing that the movie had finished hours ago and yet he was only getting home now.
I frowned, reminded myself that I didn't have any room to care, and cleared my throat.
"Does Brian bring other girls by?"
Caden shot me a look, and for the first time we made eye contact. He was clearly uncomfortable with the question, and I shrugged.
"I don't mind. We're not exclusive, I was just curious."
He turned back towards the television and was silent for a long moment. Finally, he inhaled and said, "Yeah. Sometimes. But not often. He seems to like you."
"Do you talk to any of them?"
The rich sound of his laughter filled the living room. It made my bones feel oddly weak and my cheeks strangely warm.
I was still staring vacantly at the TV, but I could feel his eyes on me. In fact, I could perfectly picture his look of smug curiosity. It almost made me smile. Almost.
"Jealous?" he asked. To which I quickly replied,
I finally dared a glance and could no longer fight the grin. He smiled and I returned it, and I didn't want to interpret the emotions welling in my chest, the thoughts filling my brain, so I turned my attention back to the television and, pressing my chin against my knees, hid my smile in the blanket.
It smelt like Caden.
The iced coffee was empty, but as a force of habit I took another long pull from the cup. The cubes of melting ice and air hissed in protest and I tried not to think about how Caden always said that drove him crazy.
With a sigh, I ran my hand through my hair, securing the limp locks in a ponytail and tried to concentrate on the textbook spread across the table in front of me. The library was fairly empty – not too surprising for a Saturday evening – but finals were coming up and I couldn't have been the only student trying to avoid cramming.
My cellphone situated just to the left of my book vibrated, and I read the message from Brian with a frown.
Punching out a quick reply to tell him that I was busy, I sighed once more and put my things back in my bag. I really needed another cup of coffee if I was going to make it the rest of the night …
On Wednesday evening I got my second message from Brian. This one, while a bit longer, was basically the same.
I've been studying all day. I could use a distraction. Come by tonight.
I frowned down at my phone. Kiersten shot me an irritated glance from the loveseat. We were watching a movie and eating Chinese food, and she could obviously see the faint blue light from her position. Chewing on my lip, I turned my phone to silent and placed it back on the coffee table.
An hour later, Kiersten gathered up our take out boxes and was prattling on about the film we'd just watched. I, however, could hardly recall and instead stared down at my hands. All I could think about was Brian. And Caden. And how shitty things had turned without me even realizing it.
"Hey," my roommate said, pausing to blink at me from the entryway. When I caught her staring, I shot her a tight smile. To which she frowned and took a seat at my side. The cushion sunk and I turned to face her, watching as the thoughtful frown never left her features. "What's wrong?"
With a sigh, I admitted, "Okay. Um, can I ask you question?"
"Do you think I'm a heartless slut?"
Genuine confusion lit her features. I would have laughed at the befuddled expression if it weren't for the awful feeling settling low in my gut.
When she finally regained the ability to speak, Kiersten blinked. "What?"
"Well," my eyes turned back to my hands which were playing with the material of my athletic shorts, "I think a might be."
"A heartless slut?"
"Yes. Maybe." I was, wasn't I? I'd joked about it enough. And usually there was some truth to go along with jokes. That's why they were funny.
"Oh Ritza…" Kiersten put her hand over mine and I met her eyes. They were wide and sad and made me feel another wave of emotion wash over me. Something akin to pity, but I was having trouble deciphering all these novel, self-deprecating feelings so it was hard to tell. "You aren't a slut babe. And you most definitely aren't heartless."
"Okay." I gave a stiff nod. Kiersten's frown deepened.
"Why would you ask such a thing?"
And so I told her about Brian and how I was feeling. About how I kept going back to him because it seemed right and natural, but now it felt cheap and wrong. How I'd always gone about sleeping with guys who I'm attracted to, but how now all of a sudden I'm not sure if physical attraction is enough to keep things going. About how I'd ignored him twice now and how I wasn't sure what to do.
"What to do?" One of Kiersten's sculpted brows arched in question. "Sweetheart, that's easy. You put a stop to it."
She made it sound simple enough. I squinted. "I don't mind being a bitch."
Kiersten laughed. She almost sounded relieved. "Thank goodness. I was beginning to wonder what you'd done to the Ritza I know and love."
I shot her a glare.
"Seriously babe. You're a self-proclaimed bitch. But you're not heartless. In fact, you've stood up for me more than anyone else in my life. You're amazing, and you have this confidence about you." Her voice softened as she continued and I felt myself go still beneath her praise. "Mark asked me why you were so fiercely independent and I told him it was because you were strong – untouchable. But it's all right to let people in, Ritza. And it's certainly all right to keep people out."
She hugged me and I felt so very ridiculous that I laughed. And then Kiersten laughed along with me and when we pulled away she was grinning.
My finger fidgeted nervously with the hem of my top. I hadn't bothered to change out of my t-shirt and running shorts after my heart-to-heart with Kiersten but now I wished I'd made myself a bit more presentable.
After talking after the movie, my best friend had put her arms around me and, without saying anything, made me feel better. But after she dozed off on the couch I continued to stare at the TV with too many scrambled thoughts keeping me awake.
I sighed for what felt like the hundredth time that night and knocked.
When the door swung open it felt like the wind had gotten knocked out of me. Because in my efforts to avoid Brian it also meant I'd been keeping away from Caden. And now he stood on the opposite side of the doorframe, his blue eyes wide with surprise and the faintest hint of a smile of his lips.
Then his smile fell and he swallowed. I watched his Adam's apple bob with the movement, momentarily transfixed.
"Brian's, uh…" He gripped the doorway, not quite opening it and I got the distinct feeling he was keeping me out. I frowned. Or more likely hiding something.
"If he's with a girl, I don't care." I rolled my eyes, trying not to be impatient but I was bad at hiding my feelings. "I just need to talk to him. I'll be quick, I promise."
With a blink, Caden took a step back and left me waiting on the front porch. The florescent lights were swarming with bugs and I watched them with an irritated frown until the door swung back open. It was Brian now that stood there, looking impossibly handsome and severe beneath the glow of the porch lights. His hair was tossed slightly and he looked sleepy. I had to fight the urge to groan. I knew that look all too well.
A scowl encompassed his features. "You're late."
"I know. I just wanted to let you know that things are over between us," I said with a shrug.
"I figured. It's fine. They can't be 'over' when they never 'started'."
My lips pursed. I probably could have gone on avoiding him and the end result would have been the same, but for some reason I wanted him to be sure. To not text me and to understand that we were no longer, well, anything.
"See you around."
With a nod, I turned to leave. I heard the door smack back against its frame and let out an exaggerated breath. And then at the sound of my name a smile tugged at the corners of my mouth and I turned back towards the apartment.
"Reetz," Caden called again. I stopped where I was and a hopeful grin lit his features. It cut through the darkness, the lift of his lips touching his bright blue eyes.
"I'll see you around?"
"Uh…" Shifting my weight to the balls of my feet, I admitted, "I don't know."
Unexpectedly, his features brightened. I wasn't sure it was possible and I certainly hadn't anticipated so much joy from me telling him that I wouldn't be around anymore.
"You're done with Brian?"
Oh. "I think so."
I felt myself returning his smile, and I had to fight the urge to close the distance between us. My feet so badly wanted to run towards him, my arms to fling around his neck and to inhale his scent. I'd missed him these past few weeks and it was a strange aching that was difficult to ignore. Almost painful, cutting somewhere in my chest. Hm. Perhaps I wasn't so heartless after all.
And then I stood there, hovering by the stairs, watching him with hopeful eyes. After a long stretch of silence past I gave a short nod, a tight smile, and turned on my heel and left.
My ears strained as I walked towards my car, but he never called out my name.
I sat on the edge of Kiersten's bed, watching as my roommate darted around her closet. She held up a couple of tops for my inspection and, with a sigh, I pointed at one. Staring at it tactfully for a moment, she turned back towards me.
"Are you sure?" She pressed the material of the red top over her tan skin and frowned down at it. "Does this say 'this chick's dating the host of the last party of the semester'?"
"Kiersten, I don't think any one top is capable of saying such a thing."
Her lower lip pouted slightly, but she did pull off the blue t-shirt she'd slept in the night before to slip the formfitting blouse over her head. Surveying herself in the mirror, she turned carefully for my inspection and I nodded like a good roommate.
"Don't look at me like that," she shot, pointing one manicured finger accusingly towards me. I froze, staring at the offending digit, and met my best friend's glare with a questioning look. "Don't roll your eyes and get all judgmental on me. I know for a fact you tried on at least four outfits tonight and that your curling iron's plugged in our bathroom."
"So, you totally care how you look tonight. You're just as vain as I, Ritza. And it's not a bad thing." Kiersten turned and began browsing through her impressive collection of denim. "It's important to make a good impression."
"Good impression on who, exactly?"
We both turned to find Mark leaning casually against Kiersten's doorframe. They'd been dating pretty solidly and he now had a key to our apartment and enough comfort in our space to use it instead of knocking.
"Caden," Kiersten replied, ignoring my heated stare to smile at her boyfriend. "He will be there, right?"
I didn't want to admit that I held my breath waiting for Mark to answer. Finals were over and the semester had drawn to a close. Most of us were packing it up and heading home for Christmas break, and therefore this would most likely be my last shot at running into him.
"Maybe." Mark shrugged. "I invited Caden and Brian, but I don't know if he'll be here or not."
When Mark began to comment on my best friend's breasts, I scuffed and removed myself from Kiersten's room. I did, however, go into the bathroom and carefully curl the ends of my hair. While I wasn't usually opposed to pulling my hair back for parties, I wanted to look my best that night. Kiersten was right about one thing. We were both vain.
An hour and a half later, the party was in full swing. I hadn't spotted Caden or Brian and an uncharacteristic fit of nerves overcame me. The uneasiness was quickly quelled with copious amounts of booze.
And just as I was pouring rum into a glass of coke, I spotted him across the kitchen.
Caden was talking with a group of people, but his eyes were on me. I smiled and capped the cheap rum, and with my drink in hand started making my way over to him. Excusing himself from the people he was talking with, he closed the distance.
"Hey," I returned.
"It's been a while, Reetz." There were people surrounding us. Talking, laughing, making noise. The music was blaring in the background but I could hear every word from Caden's lips perfectly clear. I was aware of the closeness of our bodies as we talked and inhaled the faint scent of his body wash. "How are you?"
"Good." Crossing one arm below my breasts and supporting my other with the crook of my elbow, I took a sip from my cup and held eye contact. His eyes really were spectacularly blue. "This is where we met."
His lips twitched to a grin. "Yeah. You were pretty upset with me."
"You told me I didn't have any tits," I interjected, trying hard not to smile and failing miserably.
"And then you went home with Brian." His voice held a note of bitterness.
"Then in your living room that night you told me that if you'd known that I was a sex-on-the-first-date kind of girl, you would have bothered me longer." Caden nodded, his eyes holding a hard edge. I inhaled. "If I would have known you were the kind of guy you are, I would have never left your side."
"Reetz…" he said, his voice trailing off on the end of the nickname. Tucking a lock of hair behind my ear, I craned my neck right and then left.
"Do you think we could somewhere a little more… private?"
Mark's bathroom wasn't exactly what I had in mind, but outside was busy and the other bedrooms were occupied and the guest bath had a line. Caden shut the door behind us and I glanced around my roommate's boyfriends bathroom before resting my backside against the lip of the counter.
"This work?" he asked, standing in front of me. There was still nearly a foot between our bodies. And as I tilted my head back to stare into his eyes, I realized it was too much space. Way too much.
"Woa, Reetz," Caden began as I took a step forward, our bodies nearly touching. "I thought you wanted to talk."
My fingers reached out and played with the hem of his light cotton shirt. I could feel his taut stomach beneath the material and my hands flattened against his abdominals.
"Hm," I grinned, pressing further against him and tilting my head back. Despite the hesitance encompassing his features his blue eyes were darkened with lust. "Talking's overrated."
And then Caden bent down and kissed me. Hard. His lips were firm as the met mine, his tongue demanding access nearly the moment our mouths met. I granted it immediately, parting my lips and letting his tongue sweep across my own.
My legs buckled as his teeth scraped my lower lip, and thankfully the cabinets were only a step away. Caden followed my movements, moving so that my backside once again pressed into the edge of countertop. His kisses were long and almost desperate; I'd never been kissed with so much need. It made my heart pound, and as my hand trailed beneath the fabric of his shirt, up towards his chest, I could feel that it was having the same effect on him.
His fingers moved from my check to my temple before knitting into my hair, but only momentarily. There was something frantic about the way his hands swept over my shoulders and down my arms, encircling my waist before brushing over either hip. It was as though he was giving into the need to touch every inch of me. A sentiment I did not object to as every spot his hands touched was ablaze.
And then, suddenly, he pulled away. His breath was heavy and his dark eyes still clouded, but as they met mine I could read the hesitance that lay there.
"This isn't how I want this, Reetz," Caden said. One of his hands moved to steady my hip and I reached backwards, resting my palms against the cool, tiled surface. "I want this to be real."
"What can be more real than this?" I asked, my voice low and husky. Pulling him closer, our hips flush against one another, I placed a kiss on the exposed skin just above his collar.
His breath hitched, and I watched his internal struggle. Was it really so hard? I fought off the frown and brushed my hair back.
Staring down at me, Caden leaned forward and pressed his open mouth against the curve of my neck. My head lolled to one side of its own accord, as though offering myself to him.
"This is hard," he groaned.
Flashing him a sly grin, I trailed my hands downward to the erection straining in his pants. It was flat against my navel and I could feel the hardness of it through his pants. "Yes," I said, fingers encircling the stiffness that lay there. "I can tell."
Caden groaned. "That's not what I was referring to." But he didn't say anything further as I continued my ministrations, slowly unzipping his pants and sliding my hand inside.
Then his lips were back on mine, frantic as before, and it seemed the reluctance had evaporated entirely. But with his hand beneath my shirt, brushing across the material of my bra, he took a step back and shook his head.
"I'm going to regret this later," he managed through panted breath, "but I like you."
His eyes faded slightly to the vivid blue I was used to and I bit my lip.
"Caden." My brow wrinkled "What's the problem here?"
"I like you, Reetz. Really like you." With one motion he straightened his erection and zipped back his pants. "But I don't want to be some drunken hookup in your friend's bathroom."
"Caden," I repeated his name. It sounded soft and pathetic on my lips and he turned towards me, a small, sad smile on his features. "What are you doing?"
And leaning forward, he placed a kiss on my temple. When he pulled back, he stared down at me, long and hard, before clearing his throat. "Have a good winter break, Reetz." Then he shook his head and turned, leaving me alone in Mark's bathroom.
Apparently I was no good at this… Maybe I was going at it all the wrong way, but it had been so long since I'd done anything the right way that it seemed silly to think otherwise.
My hands were trembling and when I caught my reflection in the bathroom mirror. My lips were swollen and my eyes were wide. I looked sad. I felt miserable. And never before had I been aware of how I was completely and utterly alone.
Pressing my back against the chair, I stared forward and tried to mentally prepare myself for another semester. The class was quickly filling up and though I spotted a few familiar faces there was no one I was particularly close to. Sighing, I dug through my bag for a composition notebook so I could take notes. Usually the first day wasn't anything too crucial – since many students would still be altering their schedules – but it never hurt to be prepared.
I'd spent the majority of the break mulling over Caden. And though I'd been miserable as I'd sat on Mark's toilet for the duration of that evening, the following morning I talked things over with Kiersten and we came to the conclusion that he'd simply been trying to avoid us having a relationship like the one I'd had with Brian. Or at least that's what Kiersten suspected. Either way, I had decided that I'd go over and knock on his door, profess my love and make sure he knew that I didn't want him to just be a one-night stand.
I was contemplating just what I was going to say to convince him that I was ready for a more-than-physical relationship when a throat cleared.
Glancing up, I met a pair of blue eyes and I beamed.
"Mind if I sit here?"
Instead of answering, I leapt to my feet and tossed my arms around his neck, pulling him close and burying my nose into his chest. He chuckled and his arms reached around me, patting my back awkwardly. When he tucked a lock of hair behind my ear, my grin widened. And then he looked around and a slightly uncomfortable look enveloped his features.
Pulling away, I saw that half the room was now filled with students staring openly at us. Caden blushed slightly and I laughed. With a nod I responded,
"Yes. You can sit here."
Caden took the empty seat at my left. He dropped his book bag to the floor and bent his long legs. As he shot me a glance I couldn't help the permanent grin inching its way across my features. Caden, however, shifted in his chair and blinked.
"Uh, Reetz, everything okay?"
"I missed you."
He smirked, exceptionally pleased by my confession before replying, "I missed you, too."
For a moment I didn't say anything. Just stared into his eyes, dark blue and shining. There were so many things about Caden Smith that I missed. The teasing glint, the smug tilt of his lip, his candid tongue. There was also the fact that he made me laugh, feel special, and had – for the first time since college – treated me like he wanted to be with me. Not just my body. But me.
"I'm sorry," I said, breaking the silence. Caden nodded, once, and I sighed. "But I wasn't that drunk, you know."
He frowned. "You were acting drunk."
Staring down at the empty lines of my composition notebook, I shrugged. "I wanted you."
"Believe me, I wanted you, too. I've wanted you ever since I saw you that first night at Mark's party."
At this, I couldn't help but grin. Tilting my head, I met his eyes. "I was trying not to kick you in the balls that night."
Caden laughed. It was a rich, deep sound that came from deep in his chest.
"But I wanted you that night at Mark's bathroom," I continued.
Caden's laughter died at my words and for a long moment he stared down at his hands. A frown creased his features and I fought the urge to lean over and smooth out the wrinkled brow and to make him smile again. "You had just broken things off with Brian. I don't just want casual sex." Blue eyes darted up to meet mine, catching me off guard and making my stomach do a ridiculous flip-flop. "Not with you. Not anymore."
"I know." Perhaps I was getting ahead of myself, but I turned towards him and tried to keep my voice low. There were still five minutes until class began, and I had a feeling we had more than our share of eavesdroppers. "I didn't stop thinking about you over break. I didn't stop talking about you with Kiersten after we started becoming friends." With a weak smile, I explained, "I knew something was wrong when I was more jealous that you were going on dates than Brian was sleeping around with other girls. But I'm glad I picked him that night. Because if I hadn't, I wouldn't have gotten to know you." And the sad truth is, we most likely would have hooked up and then been done. "Caden… I like you."
He didn't say anything. Just met my steady gaze and swallowed.
"I like you," I reiterated, hoping that by repeating it he'd understand. "Not just sex, Caden. I want to stay up late and play Mario Kart with you. I want to take you home and introduce you to my brothers. I want to go to Taco Bell at one in the morning and talk about everything there is to talk about and when we've covered everything we'll just talk about nothing."
A faraway glint in his eyes, Caden asked, "Do you want to grab coffee after this?"
He grinned, the weight of his blue gaze on me. "And maybe dinner tonight?"
"Yes," I repeated, my grin now matching his.
"And a movie on Friday?"
I laughed. "That sounds like a date."
"And maybe lunch Saturday morning?"
And in response, I kissed him. When I pulled away he arched a brow questioningly and I shook my head, trying to keep my stupid grin at bay. It was starting to hurt my cheeks and I'm sure I looked like a fool. Because three minutes until my first class of the spring semester wasn't exactly the ideal place for these confessions or giddy smiles or make out sessions. But honestly, I didn't care.
"Yes Caden," I said. "I'd love to."
"And pick things up from where we left off before break?"
Laughing, I pressed another quick kiss against his cheek before settling back in my chair.
Our professor walked into the lecture hall and made his way to the front of the room. While making his introductions, Professor Sullivan gave the stack of syllabi to a student on the front row. I uncapped my pen and began taking notes, and when the papers made it way to our seats I turned to find Caden staring at me.
I frowned. "What?"
"You didn't answer that last one."
Blinking, I reached for a syllabus but Caden pulled them out of my grasp.
With an impatient sigh, I asked, "What last one?"
"The one about picking things up. Things from Mark's bathroom?"
Grinning, I leaned forward and patted his thigh reassuringly. "Coffee, dinner and that movie, and we'll see how things go."
"Good." His grin was blinding as he surrendered the pile of syllabi. "You should know that I'm quite the charmer. You'll fall for me in no time."
"Hm. We'll see about that."
But I knew, without a doubt, that I'd already fallen for him. And I think by the happiness shining in his blue eyes that he knew.
After class he pilfered my schedule, outlining as we walked towards my next class what days we would have lunch together and what evenings we could go out.
I'd probably have to fight the urge to kick Caden where it counted in the future, but I had come to the realization sometime during the course of last semester that it was worth it. That while insufferable and more than slightly annoying, Caden was also everything I didn't know I wanted.
And as he shoved my schedule back in my bag and reached for my hand, I gave his a squeeze. Hopefully he knew just how eager I was to show him.