I pull my chin away and laugh it off. “It was an accident. Never interrupt a teenage girl’s nap.”
He doesn’t smile. Instead, he takes a step closer and gives me a hard look, then brushes his thumb underneath my eye. “You would tell someone, right? If someone did this to you?”
I want to respond. Really, I do. I just can’t. He’s touching my face. His hand is on my cheek. I can’t think, I can’t speak, I can’t breathe. The intensity that exudes from his whole existence sucks the air out of my lungs and the strength out of my knees. I nod unconvincingly and he frowns, then pulls his hand away.
“I’m running with you,” he says, without question. He places his hands on my shoulders and turns me in the opposite direction, giving me a slight shove. He falls into stride next to me and we run in silence.
I want to talk to him. I want to ask him about his year in juvi, why he dropped out of school, why he has that tattoo…but I’m too scared to find out the answers. Not to mention I’m completely out of breath. So instead, we run in complete silence the entire way back to my house.
When we close in on my driveway, we both slow down to a walk. I have no idea how to end this. No one ever runs with me, so I’m not sure what the etiquette is when two runners part ways. I turn and give him a quick wave. “I guess I’ll see you later?”
“Absolutely,” he says, staring right at me.
I smile at him uncomfortably and turn away. Absolutely? I flip this word over in my mind as I head back up the driveway. What does he mean by that? He didn’t try to get my number, despite not knowing I don’t have one. He didn’t ask if I wanted to run with him again. But he said absolutely like he was certain; and I sort of hope he is.
“Sky, wait.” The way his voice wraps around my name makes me wish the only word in his entire vocabulary was Sky. I spin around and pray he’s about to come up with another cheesy pick-up line. I would totally fall for it now.
“Do me a favor?”
Anything. I’ll do anything you ask me to, so long as you’re shirtless.
He tosses me his bottle of water. I catch it and look down at the empty bottle, feeling guilty that I didn’t think to offer him a refill myself. I shake it in the air and nod, then jog up the steps and into the house. Karen is loading the dishwasher when I run into the kitchen. As soon as the front door closes behind me, I gasp for the air my lungs have been begging for.
“My God, Sky. You look like you’re about to pass out. Sit down.” She takes the bottle from my hands and forces me into a chair. I let her refill it while I breathe in through my nose and out my mouth. She turns around and hands it to me and I put the lid on it, then stand up and run it back outside to him.
“Thanks,” he says. I stand and watch as he presses those same full lips to the opening of the water bottle.
We’re practically kissing again.
I can’t distinguish between the affect my near five-mile run has had on me and the affect Holder is having on me. Both of them make me feel like I’m about to pass out from lack of oxygen. Holder closes the lid on his water bottle and his eyes roam over my body, pausing at my bare midriff for a beat too long before he reaches my eyes. “Do you run track?”
I cover my stomach with my left arm and clasp my hands at my waist. “No. I’m thinking about trying out, though.”
“You should. You’re barely out of breath and you just ran close to five miles,” he says. “Are you a senior?”
He has no idea how much effort it’s taking on my behalf not to fall onto the pavement and wheeze from lack of air. I’ve never ran this far in one shot before, and it’s taking everything I have to come across like it’s not a big deal. Apparently it’s working.
“Shouldn’t you already know if I’m a senior? You’re slacking on your stalking skills.”
When his dimples make a reappearance, I want to high-five myself.
“Well, you make it sort of difficult to stalk you,” he says. “I couldn’t even find you on Facebook.”
He just admitted to looking me up on Facebook. I met him less than two hours ago, so the fact that he went straight home and looked me up on Facebook is a little bit flattering. An involuntary smile breaks out on my face, and I want to punch this pathetic excuse for a girl that has taken over my normally indifferent self.
“I’m not on Facebook. I don’t have internet access,” I explain.
He cuts his eyes to me and smirks like he doesn’t believe a thing I’m saying. He pushes the hair back from his forehead. “What about your phone? You can’t get internet on your phone?”
“No phone. My mother isn’t a fan of modern technology. No TV, either.”
“Shit,” he laughs. “You’re serious? What do you do for fun?”
I smile back at him and shrug. “I run.”
Holder studies me again, dropping his attention briefly to my stomach. I’ll think twice from now on before I decide to wear a sports bra outside.
“Well in that case, you wouldn’t happen to know what time a certain someone gets up for her morning runs, would you?” He looks back up at me and I don’t see the person Six described to me in him at all. The only thing I see is a guy, flirting with a girl, with a semi-nervous, endearing gleam in his eye.
“I don’t know if you’d want to get up that early,” I say. The way he’s looking at me coupled with the Texas heat is suddenly causing my vision to blur, so I inhale a deep breath, wanting to appear anything but exhausted and flustered right now.
He tilts his head toward mine and narrows his eyes. “You have no idea how bad I want to get up that early.” He flashes me his dimple-laden grin, and I faint.
No…literally. I fainted.
And based on the ache in my shoulder and the dirt and gravel embedded in my cheek, it wasn’t a beautiful, graceful fall. I blacked out and smacked the pavement before he even had a chance to catch me. So unlike the heroes in the books.
I’m flat on the couch, presumably where he laid me after carrying me inside. Karen is standing over me with a glass of water and Holder is behind her, watching the aftermath of the most embarrassing moment of my life.
“Sky, drink some water,” Karen says, lifting the back of my neck, pressing me toward the cup. I take a sip, then lean back on the pillow and close my eyes, hoping more than anything that I black out again.
“I’ll get you a cold rag,” Karen says. I open my eyes, hoping Holder decided to sneak out once Karen left the room, but he’s still here. And he’s closer now. He kneels down on the floor beside me and reaches his hand to my hair, pulling out what I assume is either dirt or gravel.
“You sure you’re okay? That was a pretty nasty fall.” His eyes are full of concern and he wipes something from my cheek with his thumb, then rests his hand on the couch beside me.
“Oh, God,” I say, covering my eyes with my arm. “I’m so sorry. This is so embarrassing.”
Holder grabs my wrist and pulls my arm away from my face. “Shh.” The concern in his eyes eases and a playful grin takes over his features. “I’m sort of enjoying it.”
Karen makes her way back into the living room. “Here’s you a rag, sweetie. Do you want something for the pain? Are you nauseous?” Rather than hand the rag to me, she hands it to Holder and walks back to the kitchen. “I might have some Calendula or Burdock root.”
Great. If I wasn’t already embarrassed enough, she’s about to make it even worse by forcing me to down her homemade tinctures right in front of him.
“I’m fine, Mom. Nothing hurts.”
Holder gently places the rag on my cheek and wipes at it. “You might not be sore now, but you will be,” he says, too quiet for Karen to hear him. He looks away from examining my cheek and locks eyes with me. “You should take something, just in case.”
I don’t know why the suggestion sounds more appealing coming out of his mouth than Karen’s, but I nod. And gulp. And hold my breath. And squeeze my thighs together. And attempt to sit up, because me lying on the couch with him hovering over me is about to make me faint again.
When he sees my effort to sit up, he takes my elbow and assists me. Karen walks back into the living room and hands me a small glass of orange juice. Her tinctures are so bitter, I have to down them with juice in order to avoid spitting it back out. I take it from her hand and down it faster than I’ve ever downed one before, then immediately hand her back the glass. I just want her to go back to the kitchen.
“I’m sorry,” she says, extending her hand to Holder. “I’m Karen Davis.”
Holder stands up and shakes her hand in return. “Dean Holder. My friends call me Holder.”
I’m jealous she’s getting to touch his hand. I want to take a number and get in line. “
Sky know each other?” she asks.
He looks down at me at the same time I look up at him. His lip barely curls up in a smile, but I notice. “We don’t, actually,” he says, looking back at her. “Just in the right place at the right time, I guess.”
“Well, thank you for helping her. I don’t know why she fainted. She’s never fainted.” She looks down at me. “Did you eat anything today?”
“A bite of chicken for lunch,” I say, not admitting to the Snickers I had before my run. “Cafeteria food sucks ass.”
She rolls her eyes and throws her hands up in the air. “Why were you running without eating first?”
I shrug. “I forgot. I don’t usually run in the evenings.”
She walks back to the kitchen with the glass and sighs heavily. “I don’t want you running anymore, Sky. What would have happened if you would have been by yourself? You run too much, anyway.”
She’s got to be kidding me. There is no way I can stop running.
“Listen,” Holder says, watching as the rest of the color drains from my face. He looks back toward the kitchen at Karen. “I live right over on Ricker and I run by here every day on my afternoon runs.” (He’s lying. I would have noticed.) “If you’d feel more comfortable, I’d be happy to run with her for the next week or so in the mornings. I usually run the track at school, but it’s not a big deal. You know, just to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”
Ah. Light bulb. No wonder those abs looked familiar.
Karen walks back to the living room and looks at me, then back at him. She knows how much I enjoy my solitary running breaks, but I can see in her eyes that she would feel more comfortable if I had a running partner.
“I’m okay with that,” she says, looking back at me. “If Sky thinks it’s a good idea.”
Yes. Yes, I do. But only if my new running partner is shirtless.
“It’s fine.” I stand up, and when I do, I get light headed again. I guess my face goes pale, because Holder has his hand on my shoulder in less than a second, lowering me back to the couch. “Easy,” he says. He looks up at Karen. “Do you have any crackers she can eat? That might help.”