“And you can, but not when you come out with me. I have rights, too.”
“So…I’m taking away your rights by buying my own food?”
“Think of it like this; some girls believe exerting independence by denying a man his own rights to be respectful demonstrates strength. But women are incredibly strong. We already know this. So, unfortunately, by labelling chivalry to be insolent, she is merely robbing the next generation of civility—ensuring the extinction of well-mannered men. It’s my right and duty to preserve the tradition.”
“Not all women consider it good manners when a guy forces her to accept a free lunch.” I tightened the fold of my arms.
“Oh, really?” He looked down at me with one brow arched. “Yet, if I neglected to wrap my jacket over your shoulders on a cold evening I’d be regarded as a jerk.”
“I’m a gentleman, Ara. Get used to it.” He closed the door on my retort and appeared suddenly in the seat next to me.
“How do you move so quick?”
“I don’t. You just faze out all the time.”
David pulled into an angled space outside the buzzing corner café and shut the engine off. “Welcome to the best burger joint in town.”
Beyond the flashing pink and blue signs on the windows, the generation gap seemed to be left behind; kids sat on chrome-rimmed stools by the milk-bar, singing Elvis songs loud enough to hear from here, while others gathered around the white billiard tables on the lower level. Even the staff, in their flaring poodle skirts and sneakers, seemed to have jumped right off the Grease film set. “David?”
As I looked back at him, he smiled softly, comfortably, as if he’d not taken his eyes off me the whole time. “I’m sorry about the whole independence thing. I think it’s really sweet that you’re a gentleman.”
“Yes. I can see right through your girl power act, young lady.”
“Oh, really.” I leaned back in the chair, my eyes employing a defiant glare. “And what exactly do you see, Mr Know-It-All?”
“I see…” He leaned forward, luring me into his private little world. “I see a young girl who just wants to be loved by a man worthy of her.”
Several retorts came to mind, none of them sassy and creative like I wished. I went with “Aw, how romantic,” squeezing my fists tightly to stop from launching myself into his arms.
“Come. Let’s get some food.” He turned slowly and hopped out, closing the door quietly behind him, then appeared by my door, offering his hand.
As my fingers touched his, blood rushed up with a quick skip of my heart, and I drew my hand back. “Wow, you are really cold tonight.”
“Yeah. I know.” He looked at his hand, rubbing his thumb over his fingertips. “They get cold when I drive.”
“Mine get cold when I do homework.”
“Maybe you should avoid it then.”
“Maybe I like cold hands,” I said, walking beside him, and when he smiled down at me, I caught sight of his fangs.
“Why are you looking at me like that?” he asked.
“I was just thinking.” I braved rejection and reached for his hand again; he let me take it. “With those pointy canines and cold hands—you could pass as a vampire.”
His sudden boisterous laughter made me smile. “Better watch out then; we are on a dinner date, after all.”
“Hm,” I said. “Guess I better order garlic then—or maybe a steak.”
“Yeah, you know…?” I prompted, stabbing my heart with an invisible stick. “As in…a stake?”
David shook his head, but a warm smile sparkled in his eyes as he opened the café door and the nineteen-fifties time warp enveloped us.
“I would guess, by the look on your face, that you like it,” he said.
“When you taste the food you’ll see why.”
“Ah, I see the very mention of sustenance has awakened the ogre.” David grinned at my belly.
“I can, you know.” I looked up at him. “I’m tougher than I look.”
He pinched my bony wrist between two fingers and held it up. “Yeah. So much muscle.”
“Shut up.” I laughed, punching him softly in the arm.
“Ouch.” He rubbed it. “That really hurt.”
“No.” He smirked, offering a seat nearby. “I was just trying to be nice.”
I slid into the booth, shaking my head, and David shuffled in beside me, coming closer each time I moved over to give him more space. It wasn’t until my shoulder and arm pressed against the cold glass that I realised it wasn’t more space he wanted, but less between us. I looked into my lap, smiling to myself. “Have you…” I cleared the nerves from my throat. “Have you seen the others yet?”
“By the pool table.” He tilted his head in their direction, without taking his eyes off me.
“Hm. Didn’t even see them when we walked in.” I leaned around him and watched Emily and Alana—covering their mouths, giggling at Ryan. “Are they checking out his butt every time he takes a shot?”
“Do you think we should go say hello?” I asked.
“No, they’ll come over when they finish. For now—” he shrugged, “—I kinda like this.”
So did I. In fact, I kinda hoped they didn’t notice us at all.
The corner of David’s mouth twitched, breaking his face into a grin.
“What? Why are you smiling?”
I turned my face away, feeling heat rise up in my cheeks. Sometimes it felt like he knew exactly what I was thinking.
“Why do you do that?” He cupped my chin, turning my head.
“You turn your face away when you blush,” he said delicately. “I wish you wouldn’t.”
My breath fluttered as our eyes locked together for an awkward moment. Well, awkward for me—he seemed perfectly at ease. “You know, you have an irritating quirk, yourself.”
“And what might that be?”
“That!” I pointed to that smile—the one evident only by the two dimples above the corners of his lips, while his gaze drifted downward. “It’s like you…I don’t know, it’s like you have a secret or a joke, and it’s a good one, but you don’t want to share it.”
“Oh.” He nodded, hiding the smallest hint of humour. “I guess I do, maybe do that—a lot.”
“So, what is it? Why do you do it?”
“I just spend too much time in my own head, that’s all.”
“Yeah, except…it gets pretty boring up here, so I find ways to amuse myself.” The bright smile dropped instantly and his lost words hung in the air as I folded my arms and stole his smile for my own.
“I didn’t mean it like that.”
“Hey, you two.” Emily bounced up beside the table.
“Check it out.” She inclined her head to one side in a quick movement, hinting with her eyes.
“Oh my God, you guys,” I beamed, seeing the joined hands of Alana and Ryan. “When did this happen?”
“Well.” Ryan swept his fingers through his hair. “I kinda got the hard word put on me.”
Emily shrugged. “You weren’t there to talk with me about David this afternoon, so I had to find something to do.”
David looked sideways at me, his radiant smile gleaming. “You talk about me?”
I blinked a few extra times, feeling pretty sheepish, and chose to ignore him. “Well, that’s really cool, guys. I’m glad you finally got together.”
They slid into the seat opposite us, while Emily slid in beside David, leaving a less than reasonable gap. I all but got my ruler out and measured it to the last millimetre.
“What can I get you guys?” a waitress said, popping up out of nowhere, pulling a pen from her ponytail.
David handed me the menu; I placed it back down, shaking my head. As the others rattled off their orders, he leaned in and whispered against my ear, “What’s wrong? Why aren’t you ordering?”
“I am,” I said enthusiastically, logging the cool, minty scent of his breath in my memory. “I just don’t need the menu.” I looked at the waitress as a tray of burgers and fries passed her head. “I’ll have that, thanks.”
She turned around, then smiled when she looked back. “Okay, Betty Burger, fries and shake?” She wrote it down and looked at David.
“Okay, that’ll just be a moment.” She skipped off.
David stared at me. “That’s a lot of food. Can you really eat all that?”
Evidence that he didn’t know me very well at all. “I think we should have a challenge.”
“I’m always up for that,” Ryan said.
“Cool. It’s a who can eat the most challenge?”
Emily shook her head. “Ew, no, sorry. Count me out. I’m on a diet.”
“Yeah. I mean, no, not like that.” She waved her hands around. “It’s just a healthy eating thing—to stay fit. I’m on top of the pyramid. If I weigh too much, someone could get hurt.”
“Sorry. Count me out, too. I have a really small stomach. I’ll probably lose on the first fry.”
Ryan grinned wildly. “Count me in, sister.” He shook my hand, then we both looked at David, who leaned back in his chair, linking his fingers behind his head.
“I don’t know. I can eat a lot. I could probably eat you and not think twice about it.” He leaned forward and rested his elbows on the table, titling his shoulders closer to me. “Do you think you’re up for that kind of a challenge, little girl?”
“Bring it on,” I said, and as I went to shake his hand, a jolt of static shot through us, making me yelp. “Ow. I hate that.”
“Sorry.” David touched the sleeve of his thin black sweater. “I’m wearing wool.”
“Wool?” I exclaimed with a certain amount of accusation in my tone. “How do you even know that’s wool? You’re a guy!”
He leaned on his hand, resting his knuckles just beside his smile. “A guy who knows what wool feels like.”
“Sometimes I think you know too much for your age, David Knight.”
“Well, I come from a wealthy family.” He distracted himself, swapping the salt label with the sugar one. “Grooming and Deportment were lessons of great significance during my upbringing.”
“Etiquette classes,” I informed, leaning around David to look at her. “I had to do them in modelling school when I was ten.”
“Oh.” She sat back, staring ahead thoughtfully. “Hm, that makes sense on so many levels.”
Yup, I thought so too. Being raised like an English Lord explained why he was so charming and charismatic and…otherworldly.
When we finished dinner, David and Ryan discussed, rather heatedly, their opinions on the best guitar brands while I lost myself to thought, sliding my finger over the condensation on my milkshake glass. The waitress took our plates and left the bill, which David snaffled quickly, opening his leather wallet. “I’ll get this one, guys.”
“Yeah. Hundred percent.” David nodded, laying the cash out with a rather large tip to accompany.
“Well, thanks,” Ryan said. “I’ll get the next one.”
David nodded, leaning forward to stuff his wallet in his back pocket.
“Ara.” Emily leaned around David to look at me. “You’re not human, are you? How do you eat so much?”
I patted my belly. “I like my stomach to be full.”
“Well, I think it’s good to see a girl eating,” Ryan said. “Don’t you, Dave?”
“Yeah.” He looked at me with soft eyes, then linked his fingers through mine under the table. “I don’t have to be one of those guys who’s gotta convince his girlfriend to eat. Huh! She’ll probably eat mine t—” he stopped mid-sentence.
Everyone at the table stared at him, including me.
David just sat incredibly still, barely breathing, and certainly not speaking, so I squeezed his hand and nodded.
“Yes,” David said smoothly, turning slightly to look at Emily. “It’s official.”