“Sorry,” he mutters, taking a long drink of coffee. “Sometimes I forget how damn long these legs are now.”
I pick my fork back up slowly, still trying to recover from the interesting little twist beneath my belly button. “W-well, they weren’t always that long.”
“I remember.” He winks from behind his glasses. “You used to beat me in races.”
“Until eighth grade and then…” I make an explosion sound. “Goliath.”
“Come on, now. I used to let you win on occasion.”
“Only if I fake cried.”
His amusement dies. “Yeah.” He clears his throat hard and sets down his coffee mug. “I’ve always hated it when you cry.”
Ryan says things like this all the time. Things that make me want to throw my arms around him and let him cradle me like a baby. So that’s usually when I panic and get out of his vicinity as quickly as possible, because I refuse to make myself vulnerable to anyone. It’s like handing someone a weapon to use against you at will. “Good thing I’m so tough now,” I breathe, pushing back from the table. “Right?”
“Uh-huh.” He watches me gather my purse with unreadable eyes. “Jessie.”
Without another word, Ryan stands, straightening to his full height. I strive to keep a blasé expression on my face, but inside, my heart is pumping like it belongs to a cornered rabbit. Why is he coming so close? Ryan is usually so good about giving me space. It’s not that I have a fear of being touched. Not exactly. But any kind of skin-on-skin contact is intimate—and I don’t do intimacy in any way shape or form. It’s too risky, letting someone so close.
I hold my breath as Ryan stops in front of me, so tall I would have to crane my neck to meet his eyes. But I don’t do that, I stare straight forward at his chest, trying to quell the urge to run. To run from this person who I’ve come dangerously close to letting in. Lately, keeping any part of myself from Ryan makes me feel like Superman trying to withstand kryptonite.
Maybe I’ll just tell Ryan about my mother being back in town…
Maybe I’ll just ask him for help…
Then I remind myself the only person a woman can depend on is herself.
Pulse racing, I watch Ryan pick up my fork and stab it into the only piece of pancake I left on the plate. Slowly, deliberately, he brings it to my mouth. “All our lives, I’ve let you get away with shutting me out,” he rasps, pushing the syrupy pancake bite between my lips. “But I feed you, Jessie. Every single day. That’s the one privilege you allow me and you’re not taking it away. Eat.”
Speaking of syrup, I feel like I’ve been caked in the hot, sugary substance, head to toe. My brain is in syrup, too, processing the moment in a slow haze. Ryan’s attention is fastened to my mouth and I’m…am I looking at his, too?
What am I hoping for?
What am I doing?
Not only is Ryan my best and only friend, which makes him super off limits, but I could never kiss him and proceed with today’s plan.
Also I don’t kiss anyone!
I touch no one and no one touches me.
Inside or out.
I swallow quickly and step back, shaking myself free of the trance. “Happy?” I say with a shaky laugh, picking up my purse and going around Ryan. “I’ll, um…see you later. Good luck with the Garvey case. Bye.”
As soon as I close the apartment door behind me, I lean back against it and breathe like I’ve just hiked Kilimanjaro. What happened in there?
Why are my breasts so tingly?
Ryan isn’t supposed to get in my personal space like that. Or say things that even border on being too personal. What’s gotten into him?
Moreover, how could I let whatever it is affect me like this? I know better.
With one final, steadying breath, I check to make sure my gun is still safely stowed in the inner compartment of my purse. And I leave to go rob a convenience store.
I grind my jaw as the sound of Jessie’s high heels fade out in the hallway.
She’s hiding something from me.
Which, hell. Smoke and mirrors from Jessie is the furthest thing from usual. When she was thirteen and I moved into the house next door to her, she told me her parents were retired opera singers turned lawyers who took her on vacation to Paris every year. That same night, I watched her father stagger drunkenly up the walkway, provoking a fight with her baseball-bat-wielding mother that spilled out into the yard and required the cops to break it up.
They weren’t lawyers, they needed lawyers.
Call me callous, but I didn’t give two shits about blood spilled between adults. I’d just wanted to know Jessie was all right. See, I’d fallen so deeply in love with her the moment we crossed paths, I forgot my goddamn name, and there are a million reasons why. Her combination of strength and fragility. Her humor. That secret smile she gives me. The way she gives me just enough attention to have me panting, before flitting away like a strawberry blonde fairy.