I parked in front of the bookstore, tapping my fingers against the steering wheel of my Subaru as I stared at the door.
You promised Dad. I reminded myself. After this song is done.
I closed my eyes, continuing to tap my fingers to the beat, my feet joining the symphony. I had been listening to a lot of pop that last few days, channeling my anxious energy towards something happy. I was usually a metal only girl, but the pop seemed to be taking away some of the edge I always had about me. It was hard to be miserable when Adam Levine was serenading you. As the final lyrics I knew by heart came to an end my pulse rushed in my ears, and I let my eyes slowly open.
You can do this.
In my anxiety over the way the girls acted and the fact I realized I had no valuable relationships, I had forgotten that Trent told Andrea he had a girlfriend. I swallowed as I grabbed my purse and got out of the car. I needed to figure out if this was some kind of game, or if Trent’s attention to me was all in my head. I pushed my shoulders back and took a deep breath before heading to the door. I paused when I got there, my hand frozen on the metal warmed by the morning sun.
You can do this.
I breathed the dry air into my lungs before stepping into the air conditioned building. Despite having lived all over the US, I enjoyed the heat of Arizona the most. Dry heat was much easier to deal with than the humidity of Florida, and I was never a fan of the stale air AC systems produced. I paused in the front, quickly assessing the store. Trent was at the front, kneeling down as he grabbed some books from the return rack. I was caught off guard by the way his jeans pulled perfectly around his ass and the shape of his back muscles against the tight t-shirt.
I shook my head as I turned to the bargain section of cookbooks. I concentrated on rifling through them, but the thought of Trent didn’t leave my mind.
Cookbooks, El. Cookbooks.
There always seemed to be a plethora of them on clearance, and I wondered how good they could be if the store was always selling them at cost. I picked a slow cooker one up and flipped through the pages.
“You cook?” Trent’s voice echoed behind me, and I bit the inside of my lip to keep from smiling as I turned to face him.
He leaned against the shelf behind us, one leg crossed behind the other as he smirked down at me. He was never completely shaved, and today was no exception. It was amazing to me that overnight he seemed to have grown twice as much facial hair as yesterday.
I shook my head slowly, the book still in my hand.
He nodded to it. “Then why are you looking at a really bad cookbook? Fifty Shades of Crock Pottery?”
I looked down at it, my heart hammering as I glanced back up at him, cocking my head. “I was interested in how you hog tie a chicken.”
Trent burst out laughing. “You seem to be in a much better mood today.”
I put the book down, staring at it for a moment. “I’m glad you’re still talking to me after yesterday.”
I watched Trent step forward, tipping on his toes as he put his thumbs in his pockets. “Why wouldn’t I be?”
I swallowed. “You have some time to talk?”
He nodded. “Follow me.”
We walked to the back corner of the store, where there was a ‘hidden’ nook with a loveseat and several other comfy looking chairs. It was meant for those customers who wanted to read a few chapters before purchasing.
Trent sat down on the loveseat, patting the cushion next to him. My stomach fluttered as I stared at the space next to him. His smile softened and he moved over a bit more. I sat down next to him, and turned, pulling my knees up to sit Indian style. He put an arm over the back of the seat, his fingertips inches from my shoulder.
“So what’s up?”
“I’m sorry about the way my friends were yesterday…hitting on you and such.”
He looked down at his lap, pressing his lips together before looking up at me. “Is that what they were doing?”
“You found it amusing?”
He shrugged, tapping the couch with his fingers. “I found your jealousy more amusing.”
My body tingled, and I had to control the shudder threatening to move through my body as his fingertips grazed my shoulder.
He nodded slowly, pursing his lips as if he knew exactly what I was thinking. “It was all over your face.”
My chin tucked in as I narrowed my eyes at him. “What does your girlfriend think about this?”
“This?” Trent repeated. “What exactly are you referring to?”
“You sending me home with a kinky book with your number written in it?”
Trent scratched his chin, his eyes moving to the books behind me. “Oh, that. Now, did you read the book?”
I shook my head. “I was mortified! My dad saw it!”
He leaned closer to me, his arm flexing against the back of the couch. “You judged it by its cover.”
I leaned in. “I wasn’t going to risk reading it to my dad with a cover like that.”
Trent nodded, his arms going into his lap. He flipped them over. “Would you risk bringing the bad boy home to your dad?”
I followed his eyes up from his tattoos to mine. “Bad boy would have to not have a girlfriend.”
He shook his head. “I don’t.”
“I had to get that chick off my back somehow.”
“Ahh,” I said, tapping my fingers against my ankles before looking up at him. “I don’t know how I’ve spent so much time with those girls. I…I just don’t have many valuable relationships…or any, honestly.”
“You’re obviously close to your dad,” Trent commented, his hands moving forward and falling over my fidgeting ones.
“Yeah…but I guess I never really thought about the relationships I have with other people. They never last that long, but the one with those girls has been almost three years. It’s a record…still, I always feel lonely around them, like I’m a shadow in their presence.”
Trent’s hands stayed over mine, their warmth spreading up my arms and heating my face. “Are you lonely now?”
I smiled, shaking my head. “No, it’s nice.”
His eyes raced over my face. “I’m glad to hear that. So you’re still in college?”
“Yeah,” I replied, leaning on my free hand. “I’ve been going full-time all semesters for the past three years. This summer I decided I needed a break.”
Trent’s eyes widened. “That’s a lot of work, but I’m glad you decided to give yourself a break.”
I shrugged. “I wanted to–” I swallowed as the words caught in my throat spend time with dad before… there’s no time.
Trent cocked his head. “What?”
“It’s complicated,” I finally managed to say.
He looked down at his watch, moving it back and forth over his wrist. “I get complicated. Uh–so what’s your major?”
“What are you going to do with that?”
I shook my head. “God only knows. I have a minor in graphic design, so maybe I can do something with that. I do a lot of photography and painting…artsy stuff, about as useful as my major, I guess.”
“I’m sure you could find something in graphic design.”
I shrugged. “I don’t know that I like the idea of being stuck in a high rise in Phoenix.”
He smirked, his lips twitching, and I narrowed my eyes at him. “You’d look good in a pencil skirt.”
I rolled my eyes. “So what about you? Are you in college?”
“Nah. I already have a bachelors in management, and here I am…managing a bookstore,” he answered, his jaw clenching. It relaxed into a smile as he said, “Not a fan of being stuck in a high rise in Phoenix.”
I smirked at him, and he narrowed his eyes. “You’d look killer in a suit and tie.”
We both laughed, our eyes locking on one another. It faded as our heads leaned towards one another. Trent’s hand found my cheek, and I closed my eyes breathing in deeply as his warmth spread over me. My phone ringing caused us to pull apart, and I looked down at it as Trent leaned forward, raking his hands through his hair and entwining his fingers at his neck. I felt his eyes turn to me as I started down at the phone.
“Ellie?” he asked as I felt the blood drain from my face and my body go numb. “Ellie?”
My body snapped into action as I jumped up, picking the phone up and running towards the door.
“Ellie Abela?” the voice on the other end said.
I made some sort of choking noise in response as I pushed the door to the store open and rushed to my car.
“You need to come now,” the nurse said.
The choking noise repeated as I fumbled with my keys. I dropped my phone on the seat before jamming the key into the ignition. I looked up to see Trent standing at the door, holding it open as he stared at me. I shook my head, the tears streaming down my cheeks as I slammed the car into reverse and then sped out of the parking lot.