Food vs. Men – Chapter 6


You

food vs. men

June 4th 2016 (cont.)

A barricade of people already surrounded Landen and Mark by the time I make it outside. I can hear low murmurs from the crowd as I aggressively push people apart. Running through the bar like a wild woman, I yelled for Dirk’s help, only I was too late. The fight had already begun. Not knowing who threw the first punch, two testosterone induced men were battling it out in front of Lit.  

Letting out a large breath, Mark had Landen in a headlock, his muscles flexing beneath his grip, leveraging his other arm back for a low blow to the jaw.

The only thing I could do was scream, “Mark, let him go!” Second glancing, double blinking did Landen smirk? 

Glancing over at me, I stand there accessing the crowd behind them as Dirk emerges closer biding  time. Lifting my hand to my mouth, I carefully swipe my finger across my lower lip in a back and forth motion. Mark watches angered heat in his eyes vanishes with a wild desire I was leveraging for.

A nasty cut below Mark’s right eye meant Landen got in a hit and his bottom lip busted out the center barely bleeding, counting two. By the time Dirk enters the center, Mark is so discombobulated by my lips, Dirk’s hand pinches his ear like a child yanking him backward. His arm unwraps from around Landen’s neck, limply he falls to the floor.

“You need to calm down kid,” Dirk instructs Mark, “The cops have arrived.”

Mark slumps back against Dirk’s side using him as support. Two cop sirens echo in the background as I rush to Landen inspecting him. His right eye is swollen shut and blood drips from his mouth while he lays limp on the floor.

“Landen.” I sit down on the ground lifting his head onto my leg, “Are you alright?”

He lets out a throaty groan, but his lips part into an uneven smile.

Two officers, one short and the other one even shorter than his partner shove their way through the crowd of onlookers. Accessing the scene, their eyes scan Landen on the floor before stopping dead on Mark.

“Officer Summers,” The shortest one addresses Mark first, his arm reaching out to to shake his hand. “Can you tell me what happened here?”

Of course there is cop on cop comrade. Taking the officers hand, Mark’s hand shakes the officers.

I whisper, “Landen, you can get up now.”

His lips lift into a crooked smile, “How did you know?” He whispers spitting blood onto the concrete.

”You did smirk!.” I was so worried about him, Landen already had a plan in place. A set up.

“You saved me.” He coos.

Watching him get beat up by someone with an agenda didn’t sit well on my conscious. Mark was my fault. Their altercation, me coming here all my fault.

“I helped you. Dirk saved you.”

“No way, Dirk didn’t do that sexy lip rub thing. If he did, I would probably be worse off than I already am.”

I chortle imagining Dirk doing what I did.

“Can I stay like this for a little longer? Your legs feel nice beneath me.” My hearted flopped against my breast bone skipping three beats.

“If it makes you feel better.” I smooth my hand over his long hair. He kept letting it grow, only trimming it to make it look neat.

“Now that you mention it-” He starts when the other officer bends down.

“Sir, can you stand up?” The officer motions with his stubby hand and small eyes indicating directions to Landen.

“Yeah.” Landen says starting to twist himself up. Turning back to me he whispers, “Officer Buzzkill over here.”

Chuckling, I stand him extending my arm for support. Lacing his fingers through mine, I help him off the ground though he bears most of his weight. Locking my hand in his, the officer rattles off questions.

What happened? The ambulance is on its way, do you think you need to go to the hospital? The list of questions seemed endless, but Landen handled them with ease.

Attentively listening to Landen’s side of the story, I found out Mark was the one who threw the first two punches. Landen stood there like a fool taking two for me. Lightly squeezing my hand, another lopsided grin submerged on his face. Explaining to the officers what happened inside, Dirk escorted them into the bar as two more cop cars and an ambulance arrived.

He finally let go of my hand by the time the paramedic escorted him to the ambulance as I gave my statement to a woman cop who looked like she bit into a very sour apple. Almost all of the crowd dispersed by the time Mark was arrested. His head sunk down in the back of the cop car as I watched it roll on down the street.

“I’m closing the bar early.” Dirk stands next to me and Alyssa stands next to him.

I finally look at Alyssa. The displacing features on her face were hard and unpleasant to look at.

“We need to talk.” There is a hard tone in her voice.

Following her inside the empty bar, employees busied around clearing the tables. A few looked at the both of us, but the rest kept their heads down.

Continuing the follow her through the kitchen doors, the faintly whoosh lowly echoed inside the kitchen.

“What the fuck were you thinking bringing this drama into Dirk’s bar?”

“Excuse me?” I thought I didn’t hear her correctly.

“Cassie, don’t play dumb. Look around the kitchen!” Her arms flailing at mugs broken on the black tile. “It’s a mess. A brand new mess. This wouldn’t have happened if you’d just date Landen already!” She shouts at me.

“Oh, so now you’re all for Landen? Because after you found out about me and Mark you were all for him. You can’t pick sides when you want to and you don’t get to dictate who I date.”

“Oh, that list is getting pretty long.”

I gasp sucking in a large breath. Hurt was an understatement right now.

Alyssa and I met five months into freshman year of college. She lived across the hall from me and I found her loud and rather annoying. One night, my keycard stopped working to my room. Our RA, Tom was nowhere to be found, and I waited for him to return, only to end up passing out in front of my door. Alyssa found me at one in the morning slumped over in an uncomfortable position. Inviting me in, she admires she didn’t really like me because I was a quiet snob. I didn’t talk to anyone, not in my formative years and not then.

Countering her statement, I told her I wasn’t fond of her loud mouth and we laughed about how we both didn’t like each other. Long story short, we ended up becoming best friends. She was my first best friend. Growing up, I was never really good at making friends, it got so bad my mom would have to ask people if I could attend birthday parties or sleepovers.

Sleepovers were the best, I would make it all the way until bedtime and say, “I want to go home now.” My mom would pick me up and tell me the same thing, “At least you tried.” I kind of felt bad for my mom. The effort she put into me making friends, reading books about why I didn’t want to play with other kids, and not to forget the numerous tests I had to go through with psychologists and doctors only not getting answers. She never listened when I told her I wasn’t interested in being friends with the girls my age. She finally gave up in middle school.

Now, my only best friend is letting go of all the backlash that has been pent up for years. Which was causing me to backlash. 

“The list of you giving guys blow jobs in the back of offices is getting long too.” I spit back on anger and resentment.

“Dirk is my fiancé and in case you haven’t noticed this is our future. Our livelihood.”

“This is my livelihood too, in case you forgot.” I say starting to pick up the larger pieces of broken mugs tossing them forcefully into the large trash can near the steel table.

Alyssa begins to help me. She wanted a fight. A way to blow off steam and anger, I wasn’t going to give it to her.

Piece by piece, tandem work together not saying a word. Grabbing a kitchen broom, Alyssa grabs the dustpan.

“Cassie, I’m sorry.” Alyssa places the dust pan on the floor.

“I am not ready to say sorry. Tonight has been so fucked up, I don’t even know what to say.” All I could think about was the beginning, middle, and end of tonight. All the words spoken to get there and all the words said in the last fifteen minutes. Words spoken on anger are the words that hurt the most. They leave residual backlash like cuts on a skin, except they wound the heart. Actions slash the soul, piece by piece taking chunks of a person causing them to rethink who they are or the situation. Alyssa and I spoke angered words. I didn’t think we could come back to the friendship unless I tried.

Sniffled sobs spill from Alyssa’s mouth. I did the only thing I could think of, “Remember the time Zeke told you he owned his house. You went over there only to be caught by his grandmother in your bra after a heavy makeout session.”

Hiccuping a sob, she faintly laughs wiping her eyes as she stands, “I was so embarrassed, I can still remember her beady eyes glaring at my chest and back up to my face. I thought she was having a heart attack the way she placed her hand on her chest, mouth open, shocked as all get out.”

“And you ran out the door without your shirt and waited for me in someone’s bushes until I came and got you.”

“The only time I felt like a true feminist is when I burned that bra. Damn, it was my favorite.” The light in her eyes returns much like the memory I brought up.

Knowing I couldn’t change what had been said between us, I knew I could tell her something about our history together.

No matter the guy in the situation or the situation itself, we are friends. There for each other through the good and bad times.

“I didn’t mean to ruin the kitchen.” I falter on my own sob. “And I am sorry I brought my mess into the bar.”

“It’s not your fault. I am-“ She pauses for a few seconds, the words failing her, “I am sorry for snapping. Henry at work is riding my ass about that stupid house on Aaron Ave and the wedding is a week away. I am-“ Before she could finish Dirk and Landen wander into the kitchen caring bins filled with glasses “Sorry. So sorry.” Her wobbly undertone doesn’t go unnoticed.

Wrapping our arms around each other, we hug not caring about the presence of two men. 

“I sent the other bartenders home.” Dirk sets down a bin on the steel table, his long bony fingers rest on top watching us break free from each other.

Everything about Dirk was long. His legs, arms, and torso, but he wasn’t lanky. Muscular and fit to be exact. Before opening Lit, he used to be a bouncer at a strip club in a seedy part of town. He once told me he lived to work out six hours a day,  that was the only way he wouldn’t dive into the world of drugs. If he stayed fit he would have something to look forward to the next day. His body carried a hard edginess that commanded attention and his deep brown chocolate eyes always looked narrowed as if he was harshly studying you.

The first time we met, I almost peed myself from being so intimidated by him, only to find out he was a big softy.

“I am going to finish cleaning the other kitchen and head home.” All the adrenaline and arguments from the nights events finally caught with up me. The only place I wanted to be now was home.

“I will help you.” Landen steps closer to the other kitchen.

“You will not. You should be relaxing.”

“Take one for the team and she becomes bossy.” Landen chuckles, wincing as the muscles in his face lift high.

Waving him off, “I only become bossy when you don’t listen.”

Loudly, he playfully growls as I set into the other kitchen.

An exertion of dread commands my mind. Standing in the kitchen, more damages was done to the letters than the tables. Working around the letters, I couldn’t bring myself to pick them up. Sliding the tables back into place, I track Landen with my eyes holding a ream of tape in his hands.

“We are going to tape these.” Arching forward, he picks up the letters at his feet.

Not saying anything, I tried to not ogle his face. The nasty swelling around his eye already turning a dark purple, his fingers had scrapes from the concrete outside of the bar or hitting Mark, and his lip equally as swollen as his eye had a large cut on his Cupid’s bow.

“Landen.”

“Yeah, Cas.” Stopping what he is doing, he peers at me giving me his full attention.

“I’m sorry this happened to you. I’m sorry I played our song as a stupid way to get back at you. I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings.” I could give all these apologizes, but somehow they felt hallow even though I truly meant them. Saying I’m sorry isn’t supposed to be handed out like candy, and it also couldn’t reduce the consequences of events that happened.

“Nothing happened to me that I didn’t want to happen. I went out there and you told me not to. The way I look at it is, you gave me a really good fucking hug and I got to lay my head on your leg.”

“Don’t do that.” Sniffling attempting to hold back my emotions lodges in my throat.

“Do what?”

“Be so chill about tonight.”

“I am allowed to be chill. I am not the one in the back of a cop car. Instead, I am here with you.” He nudges me when my eyes catch the scar on his arm. The same scar I saw a couple of years ago. The same scar I have scene for the last two months. Elevated and a very pale pink, the scar deepened at the crevasse of his elbow. Not wanting to examine it or make him uncomfortable, I turn away, my curiosity growing to know the story behind the raised edges tattooing his skin.

“I guess you’re lucky then.” Standing, one more time tonight, I give him my hand to help him up.

“Very lucky.” He whispers once he stands. “Let’s go tape some fucking letters.”

“Maybe I am the lucky one.” I say flicking off the light to the mini kitchen, he wraps his arm around my shoulder escorting me to the bar.

 

“You’re not blogging anymore.” Landen dips his french fry into the ketchup on the corner of the paper tray.

The paramedic advised Landen not to drive with his swollen eye and I didn’t have Bessie, so he asked me to drive him home. We made it down seventh street in downtown before he asked me to stop at Joe’s Midnight Run. Well, his exact words were “Feed me chauffeur.”

Opting to take the food to go, we ordered fries and milkshakes. I drove in the direction of our parents houses when he told me he didn’t live with them anymore.

His small one story house sat on an acre of land. The front had a small brick wall around the edge of the property with a foot of rot iron fencing adding accent to the boring brick. Two large vertical steps faced the street and two smaller ones faced the driveway. The outside was quaint and cozy. Opting not to go inside to wake up Zeke, we sat on the steps looking out onto the street.

“How did you know I was blogging?” I remembered telling him I wrote recipes, not that I blogged. Cool as a cucumber knowing Landen had probably read my first blog post, the one about him hit my nerves freeze inside me.

“Your mom tells everyone, which means my mom. My mom is the biggest gossip next to your mom and well, I know. Writing recipes my ass.”

Chucking a french fry at him, he catches it taking a small bite. Mostly sticking to liquids, I’ve eaten more fries than him.

Fries are good for the thighs…

“I do write recipes. I also talk about my dates.”

“The only dates you should be posting about is the ten crowdfunding letters. The day you opened them and the day you start cooking at Lit.”

A shy smile spreads across my face. Surreal is the only way to describe the experience of opening the letters. Luckily, Mark tore the ones declining to donate. A few gave check donations and others set me up with a representative to call for donated items for the silent auction.

“I can write about those too.”

“Maybe you can write about how you saved me, Cas.” He jokes, my nickname rolls off his tongue, friendly and admiring.

“I could, but why tell the world about my superhero cape.”

“Your sexy superhero cape.” Shamelessly, he winks.

Bringing a scoop of milkshake to my mouth, the cool mint chip ice cream tastes heavenly. “How far back in my blog have you read?” The question sat on the forefront of my mind.

Wiping the salt off his fingers in a dusty motion, he lifts his eyes to mine. Sultry and magnetic they held me captive like a prisoner waiting for release.

“To the very first post.” A heated blush creeps to my cheeks, he continues, “I probably read it a million times, and the second and so on. I learned who my competition was. Who you are now. What you want out of life. Anything you haven’t told me can be read within those posts.”

Gulping down residual ice cream, thickness in my throat grew spreading and suffocating my every breath. “You always have impeccable timing, so why tell me this now?”

“Because you’re free, Cas. Your list isn’t long.” He brings back me telling him about my argument with Alyssa on the way here. What I didn’t tell him was she said about him. “It’s boring. I’m right here. Waiting. So write those posts and I will keep reading them until one day the name in them is mine.”

“Landen-“ Not talking, I went with the moment. Scooting over, my lips met his cheek knowing his mouth still injured probably couldn’t take my hungry lips. With force, Landen yanks me on his lap. Jumping back, I didn’t know what I was doing. Earlier I was on top of Mark and now I am on top of Landen.

Lost. Confused. I wasn’t a whore. A man jumper. Plummeting into a lost abyss my heart knocks against my chest. Dating a lot was one thing, but this situation took everything to another level.

“I should go.” Straightening myself up, I dust myself off walking backwards towards the path.

“Cas, you’ll need the keys to my Jeep to get home.” He comes in my direction.

Crap! Which means I have to see him tomorrow to return it.

Stopping so close to me, I can feel his breath on my forehead, “Keep it, I will catch a ride with Zeke tomorrow and you can return it on Saturday for the BBQ.”

Double crap.

My parents annual June BBQ. The kick off to pre-summer fun and more BBQ’s to come. More summer days to see Landen.

His lips touch my forehead, leaving their mark. His friendly and gentle lips settle in nicely. Closing my eyes, my frantic thoughts soothe as if his lips are a pacifier.

Running my hands along his arms, nails digging deep enough to leave a mark, I don’t want him to pull away. The second he pulls away, the gentleness of his lips will leave my mind in utter chaos. Instead, I wait for him to make the first move. The first sign of closure.

“See you Saturday, Cas.” He murmurs closing off the kiss with a future greeting.

Dropping my hands, it’s better this way. One small kiss left more for interpretation than I wanted to. Landen clutched the keys in my hand wrapping my fingers tightly around them.

Fighting the urge to walk away, I untether myself from his presence hurrying to his 90’s Jeep Wrangler in the driveway.

I loved his car. Not as much as I loved Bessie, but I did love it. The top was off and the large roll bar across the center made me want to spin around and around until I was dizzy and my thoughts could line straight.

Slamming the Jeep into reverse, I drive away without looking back. Emotional nausea lodged itself in my chest. Holding it back, not wanting to give my emotions a chance me come forth, I drive the twenty minutes to my apartment.

 

Barely getting enough sleep Friday, I spent all of Friday night and most of Saturday catching up on it. Figuring I needed to be well rested for my parents BBQ, sleep was easy, getting ready was the hard part. Trying on and tossing off so many outfits, I was late leaving my apartment.

More times than not I ran away from Landen. On purpose of course. Not wanting to give into his dreamy chocolate eyes or sinfully wicked smile, I knew I would cave eventually. His persistence was evident, my determination to run was equally evident.

Turning the Jeep into the Davies driveway, I placed the car into park. The whole blocked was crowded as all get out. Over the years, my parents backyard BBQ grew to the size of a family reunion.

Crossing over from the Davies to my parents, not much had changed in the last few years to their frontyard. The front still had the same rose bushes lining the front of the house. Gardening was something my mom took pride in every Spring and loved pruning her roses every Winter.

A few spots of grass were dead from the lack of water conservation my mom was making my dad take part in. He wouldn’t let go of his grass, even though she tried to convince him drought tolerant front yards were a new thing. Slipping through the back gate into the backyard, most of the people I didn’t recognize. Hardly coming back home for these BBQ’s my mom did a darn good job laying on the guilt nice and thick this year.

“Cassie!” Ronnie Landen’s mom saunters off the patio dance floor in my direction.

My parents started a dance floor a couple of Summers ago after extending it three feet into the grass. A beige awning covered the patio and at night small lights hung for ambiance. Each year they would alternate music because they could never agree on the same type. Unfortunately, this year is Disco and ABBA played loudly in the background.

If my ears weren’t bleeding, they should have been.

“Hi, Mrs. Davies.”

“Please call me Veronica or Ronnie.” Her kind smile matched her kind eyes.

Landen told me she loved being called Ronnie, since her favorite group was Ronnie and the Ronettes. By the time he was two, he knew most of the words to Be my Baby” as she played it everyday dancing with him around their living room.

After all these years, how familiar and unfamiliar I was with her, I couldn’t call her anything but Mrs. Davies.

“Okay, Ronnie.” I say uncomfortable as it rolls off my tongue. “How are you doing?”

Lightly she chuckles placing her arm on my shoulder. Ronnie had the body of a supermodel. Tall and slender. Chocolate eyes matching Landen’s and rich natural chestnut hair. Mostly wearing dresses above her knees, I was taken back she was in a pair of Capri jeans and a light creamy v-neck. Foregoing her usual heels, she was wearing a pair of white strappy sandals.

“I am good, other than seeing Landen’s face.” She frowns. “He told me everything, I am so glad he was there to stand up to that ex boyfriend of yours.”

A jagged slanted smile emerges off my lips, “Yes, me too.” I say wishing I sounded convincing having no idea what Landen told her. “The situation was intense.” Jamming my hands into the pockets of my Capri overalls glad to have worn pants. Especially pants with pockets.

A nervous sweat formed under my light pink t-shirt from being under Ronnie’s microscope.

“I can tell by the way his face looks.” Her lips narrow further down than the first time.

Like myself, Landen was an only child. Parents of only children oftentimes have a fierce and protective connection with their child. I knew about that all too well.

“Enough about that. How have you been? The kitchen looks beautiful are you ready to start cooking?”

Breathing steadily from the subject change, I answer her honestly, “The kitchen is phenomenal. Landen did a wonderful job and yes, I am very happy to start a new adventure.”

“I bet. Your mom is ecstatic to come to the new grand opening. She has us all saving the new grand opening date.”

“Sounds exactly like her. If she could, she would use my picture on a billboard so the whole City would come.”

Nodding her head, she chuckles agreeing.

“Mom, are you harassing Cassie?” Landen steps in line next to his mother like a ninja coming out of nowhere.

“I would never harass her, I believe you do enough of that.”

His eye smile along with his lips as he searches my facial expression. Darting my eyes away, I rock back and forth on my heels.

“He doesn’t harass me. I harass him.” I quip knowing Ronnie wouldn’t believe me.

“I don’t believe that for a second! Landen used to lay under my vanity when I got ready for work. He would run this hand along my calf asking me if he could have a pair of stockings, so I know all about his harassing. Or the time he used to follow oh gosh what was her name Landen? The girl with the cute pigtails always in a dress.”

“Presley.” He groaned again still playing into his mother’s story.

“That’s right. You followed her around not saying a word for weeks. Finally Presley’s mom came over and explained how my son wouldn’t leave his daughter alone. I had to explain to her mother it was his weird way of showing affection.” She laughed squeezing his shoulder.

Choking on a laugh, now it’s his turn to look away, a faint blush creeping to his cheeks, “Mom.” He groans embarrassed.

“Alright, enough embarrassing you in front of Cassie. It was really good to see you, dear.” Leaning down, she warmly hugs me.

“You too.” Embracing her back, I held on a little longer than I should have counting ten more seconds before deciding to let go. 

“Oh, and I made three chocolate cakes, they are your favorite if I remembered correctly. Eat some before everyone else does.” 

Thickly swallowing, I could only nod watching her depart.

The years of being without chocolate cake and hearing the mention of it made my mouth water.

“Don’t worry, I ate it all.” He tries his signature wink only failing because of his swollen eye.

“Don’t hurt yourself.” I nudge him gently in the ribs.

“Come on, I have a surprise.”

“If it involves my calves I am out.” I joke refraining a laugh.

“I’m saving that for later. Trust me you’ll be begging for me to rub your calves when we’re done.”

Normally, I wouldn’t leave the party without saying hello to my parents. The amount of people here was like a large fog surrounding a shoreline and it would take me awhile to find them.

Leading the way, I follow Landen back over to his parents watching him inspect his Jeep bumper to bumper.

“I took care of her.”

“Her? No, that there is a man.” He states proudly.

“Sorry man,” I nudge her with my elbow on the side panel, which earns me a seriously look.

Playfully rolling my eyes, we walk to the side garage of his parents house. Next to the door are two bikes.

“How did you take my bike from my parents garage?”

“Easy…” He pauses making me think he stole it, “I asked your dad for it. I told him you begged me to go bike riding with you today.”

“You did not.” I tuck my head down laughing, thick chunks of hair falling into my face.

“I did. He thought it was an awesome idea. If your dad thinks it is, then it must be.” His fingers brush my hair back behind my shoulders. A trail of goosebumps infiltrate along my neck and arms.

Glancing between him and the bike, it looked smaller than I remembered. Or maybe it was being older.

My parents didn’t like spending a lot of money on new things, since they grew up in an era of waste not want not. One Saturday while at the flea market, my dad found a 1981 Schwinn Stingray. He said it was the end of an era for that type of bike with the large width handlebars and banana seat.

In mint condition, he bought it for fifty dollars. A steal, he shouted loading it into the car.

The white once white hand grips were now a pale yellow and the cardinal red and sky blue were barely faded from being in the garage.

“I put in new tubes, but the tires are still in good condition.” Landen says steering my gaze to him away from the bike.

“Are you ready to ride?”

“Sure.” The thrill to get back on my bike buzzed within my body.

I rode my bike from middle school all the way until I graduated high school. When my peers wanted cars, I got new tires on my bike. A new chain and cranks as additional upgrades.

Bessie was my bike’s side kick. If I didn’t have to go long distances, I used my bike.

Settling on his BMX bike, a red, black and white cruiser of some sort, Landen clears his throat as an indication for me to follow suit.

Straddling the top tube, my legs still touching the ground, a beaming grin on my face. Lowering myself on the banana seat, nostalgia drummed recollecting how freeing a bike ride could be.

Landen kicked off the ground first pedaling down the driveway. Not stopping to see if I am following, I watch him casually change lanes from the sidewalk to the street by jumping off the curb in between two cars. Kicking off, I race to catch up to him. His legs pedal rapidly until he coasts standing in the air. Admiring his form, legs in black cargo shorts, his t-shirt slightly flapping in the makeshift breeze, I pedal faster to catch up.

Weaving in and out of cudasacks and neighborhoods far beyond our parents house, Landen kept going.

Tightly wound together, my knees ached and my calves burned trying to keep up. Much like Ronnie Landen was a runner. In shape. My only shape was knowing the size of a cake pan or lifting a fork to try food.

Tired, I lulled to a stop resting my feet on the sturdy asphalt beneath me. Sweat ran down my back coating my pale pink undershirt and underneath my hair. Inside one of my pockets was a hair tie, but all my energy went into keeping myself upright.

Craning his head around to see the distance between us, swiftly he speed pedals back to me. The closer he came, I scanned his body for hints of tiredness and perspiration. Only small beads of sweat dripped down the sides of his forehead.

“Tired already?”

“Yes!” I pant amidst the fire burning in my legs. Once the pain stopped, they would be gelantonis apendenages causing me to fall to the floor.

Using the banana seat, my legs straighten to the front tire knowing I would be sore tomorrow if I didn’t stretch.

“Didn’t I tell you I would rub your calves or what?”

“You have a fetish with calves.”

“For a shorty, you have sexy calves.” He admits honestly zeroing his eyes on calves waiting for a response. His other eye, bruised slightly opened made his gaze look more narrow.

“You have sexy arms.” I fumble the sentence nervously wanting to face plant into the handlebars.

Falling deeper into the lightweight seat, extending his arms into the air, his taint muscles help tease my gaze.

Forget my legs, my whole body is ready to liquefy on the ground. The June heat is more than enough to evaporate me into a sticky puddle on the asphalt. A blush perches high on my cheeks brightly tinting the already crimson flush further on a color wheel.

“Cas-“

“Hmm.” I manage in a throaty voice watching his arms lower.

“I asked you to ride with me for a reason.”

“You did?”

“I thought about our conversation on Thursday. How you’re list is boring. And the conversation at Augmented about how I would wait for you.”

“Okay.” Confusion centers in my voice wondering where he is going with this.

“One . In two years time or ten dates, I want my chance.”

“I don’t understand. You tell me you’re going to wait for me and now you’re giving me a time limit?”

“I am suggesting it knowing it would kill me to wait for you. I am willing to do it because you’re going to continue being stubborn, so the only logical thing I can do is give you a time limit.”

“A time limit.”

“A time limit.” He mimics.

The words settle in my brain.

“Ten dates or two years.”

“And we hang out. Get to know each other. But you have to keep writing. Keep posting recipes, dates, everything.”

“Why?”

“You once said it was what you’re good at, why stop now?”

“Maybe, I’m not good at it. Maybe, I was crazy to think recipes and men go together.”

“You’re not crazy. You’re you. And you’re good at cooking.”

“But not with men?” I counter smirking.

“You know when you create the perfect recipe, and you keep making it and each time it comes out differently, but your heart wants that first one?”

“Yeah.”

He continues, “It knows the smell, taste, and ingredients? Think of me as your first recipe. You keep trying and maybe just maybe you might find one like me. Or maybe that perfect recipe is already in here,” He points to his heart. “It’s been there all along. I’m your perfect recipe.”

“I’m supposed to shelve you in my recipe box for ten dates or two years?”

“Kind of. You have to take me out once and awhile to look me over. Remember what you’re missing.

Remember how I taste. Remember the ingredients that make me perfect.”

I don’t know if it was him or the recipe talk swirling my mind as if it were chocolate and vanilla frozen yogurt. Lowering himself to my level, but not playing me as dumb, he had me interested. So interested, I wanted his ingredients. To remember us together and to feel the way I used to feel about him only better than I recalled.

But I was intrigued to see if I could date other men finding someone who wasn’t like our recipe. Someone who would change my mind on him. The only way to do that was to hold out hope and keep seeing other men.

“Okay, I except this recipe plan on one condition. You have to date too.”

Saying it left a bitter after taste in my mouth. I wondered if it would for him too, or if he already had it from giving me ten dates.

“Deal.” He says using his legs to maneuver his bike side caddy with mine. “Will you be my date to Dirk and Alyssa’s wedding?”

“Yes.”

“I’m trying really hard not to kiss you.” He whispers taking my hand off the handlebar holding it with his.

“I’m trying really hard not to let you.” I blow out a small breath.

Connecting my hand with his lips, another round of goosebumps cascade up and down my arm. Wonderfully soft lips leaving another nonexistent mark on my hand. Desperate for his hands on my body and his lips touching mine, I closed my eyes replaying that night at Augmented.

That night left so much to the imagination.

I truly knew I was in trouble. Endanger of warnings flashed before my eyes. Letting go was the scariest part. Freeing my inhibited self-hatred for what he did to me or what he might do wiggled and nagged in my brain.

The only thing I could refrain from allowing myself to indulge in was chocolate cake. I’m pretty sure Landen would break me of that too.

“Race you back? We can iron out the details of our deal and eat some food. Oh and dance to disco.” He says gently gliding my hand back to the handlebar, fingers brushing the top of my fingers.

A smile voluntarily plants itself on my lips. “Sure.” I say feeling the gravitational pull of his persistence. The damn thing was infectious and wanted.

Walking my bike in line with his, “Ready, set, go!” He shouts taking off.

Me though, I stay back loving the bouncing excitement humming in my body from admiring the muscles in his legs faintly tick as they work the pedals.


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