Half an hour later, most of the students have left, and I’m packing up my things.
I push the chairs up to the table and lean over to wipe it off.
“Hey,” comes Ryker’s voice from behind me.
I flip around, and there he stands, his broad shoulders leaning against a tall bookcase, half of his face in shadow.
It doesn’t lessen the impact of him.
I wonder if he’s been waiting for me this entire time.
“Hey,” I reply softly. I’ve replayed our conversation from when he dropped me off at my car a hundred different ways, trying to decipher where we stand.
“I missed you in class,” I say. “We covered differential equations.”
“Nice. Did you take notes for me?”
“Not a jersey chaser or your secretary.”
He laughs. “The claws are out. I didn’t expect you to. We can plan a study session at your place if I get behind.”
I toy with the straps of my backpack. “Yes, we could.” I’m already picturing him in my bedroom, spreading me out naked on my bed while I recite math facts.
“No more work tonight?”
“All done.” I walk over to him, and he steps forward out of the dimness of the shadow. “Ryker! What happened to your face?” I scan his features, taking in the purple bruise around his right eye. Moving closer, I wince at the puffiness and the worn look on his face. “A fight?”
He sighs, looking away from me. “You could say that. Archer and I…” He shakes his head. “There’s some bad blood between us.”
I inhale sharply. Ah.
He rakes a hand through his hair. “It’s nothing you have to worry about.”
I frown. “Was it on the field?”
“Yes.” His lips tighten and he rubs his jaw. “Blaze told me about him showing up when your tire was flat. But that wasn’t the main reason we got into it. There’s…a history there.” He gets a weird expression on his face, one I can’t read. “There’s something I need to tell you. Something that happened at practice…” His voice trails off as I lean in and brush a kiss across his cheek. I’m not quite sure how to maneuver this new…thing we have.
“Is it that you missed me?” I smile.
He stares at me and opens his mouth but then closes it, a shuttered expression on his face.
“Ryker? What’s wrong?’
He swallows and looks down. “Nothing. It can wait.”
“I see.” But, I don’t. He’s being very tightlipped, which means he isn’t ready to talk about what’s on his mind. “Is everything with Archer okay now?” From covering the games, I know tensions run high among players. Sometimes a good old-fashioned fight can settle things down.
A muscle flexes in his jaw. “No.” He tilts my chin up. “I’ve missed you, Red.”
A blush steals up my cheeks.
“And there’s somewhere I want to take you tonight. A surprise.”
“Are you asking me or telling me?”
He arches a brow, and I’m glad to see his mood seems to be improving. “You’ll want to go. You’ve wanted to see me all day—”
My eyes flare.
He continues. “And I know that because you wore that shirt to get my attention. You can’t tell me no—”
I cock my hip. “I can tell you no, and—”
“Because I suspect you’ve missed seeing my handsome face—”
“I wear what I want to—”
“Maybe I can’t tell you no, Red.”
I stop what was about to come out of my mouth. God. He sure knows how to shut me up. “Good,” I say softly.
He takes my backpack from me and hitches it over his shoulder then tosses an arm around me. “Come on, let’s get out of here.”
“I hate surprises,” I tell him as we walk down the aisle.
“Is that so? Even the good ones?”
“Mmhmm. On my tenth birthday, my mom surprised me with a clown, which terrified me. Not to mention I was too old for clowns by then and didn’t give a flip about balloon animals. I really wanted a Justin Bieber birthday, but alas, he was on tour.”
He smirks. “Most people are scared of clowns.”
I nod in agreement. “I barfed on his big yellow shoes. Pretty soon the other kids started puking. Of course, it didn’t help that I’d been reading It—when I was clearly too young for it.”
He chuckles. “I bet you were a handful.”
“I was an angel.” I throw a glance over at him. “What’s the big quarterback afraid of? Spiders? Snakes? Big linebackers?”
He tosses his head back and laughs as we head down the stairs, and I’m glad he’s in a better mood. “You’d never believe it if I told you. And I’d have to swear you to secrecy.”
“Is it creepy?”
“Hmmm, you’ll probably laugh.” He pauses. “I really shouldn’t tell you.”
“You can’t do the old bait and switch with me. Tell me!”
He laughs. “Fine. It’s alektorophobia.” He gives me a questioning look. “Know what that is?”
My mouth curls up. “Come on, you’re asking the girl who’s had a word of the day since she was five. Of course I know what it is. You’re afraid of chickens—but not birds, I suppose, since Vampire Bill didn’t freak you out.”
He smirks. “And it’s not really a phobia. I just wanted to impress you with my vocabulary. It’s more of an irrational fear of roosters.”
I smirk. “Childhood trauma?”
He nods. “At the petting zoo.”
“I’m picturing you running amuck and a mean old rooster chasing you across a field.”
“You must be psychic. Pretty much nailed it. FYI, they run fast.”
We laugh and all at once, I feel…giddy. My heart stutters in my chest, and I stare at him.
“We should get going,” he says, and only then do I realize we’ve been looking at each other for several seconds.
We walk out the door and into the cool October air. The sun is low on the horizon, a few hours from setting, and the smell of fall is in the air, crisp and sharp. Ryker stops and sets my backpack down to take off his blue and orange varsity jacket. With a small smirk on his face, he arranges it around my shoulders.
“I didn’t say I was cold,” I murmur, but I’ve already stuck my hands in the pockets. It falls past my waist and two of me could fit inside it, but I’m in no hurry to take it off.
A smile works his face, and he pushes a strand of hair behind my ear. “Let’s go.”
It feels like a date.
He opens the passenger side door of his truck for me, and once I’m tucked in, he gets in and pulls out of the parking lot next to the student center. I sit on my side, but it doesn’t stop my eyes from watching the roped muscles in his forearms. I begged him to tell me where we’re going, but he’s not budging.
“Are you hungry?” he asks as we turn onto the main drag that will take you through Magnolia. We pass a few restaurants, even Sugar’s, but I had a late lunch with Charisma before I went to the study group, so I tell him I’m not hungry. He nods his head toward the back seat. “I grabbed some wine from the store before I came to see you. There’s chocolate back there too. I had an early dinner in the cafeteria, but I didn’t know if you’d eaten anything.”