• But still maybe get that sports bra just in case.
Why are you looking at me like that?” I ask.
He shakes his head, but doesn’t stop staring at me.
“Uh. Sorry. You just reminded me of someone for a second there.”
I wait for him to move away, but he doesn’t. His gaze is still fixed on my mouth, and it’s strange how just that look provokes a physical reaction in my body, one sensation compounding into the next until my skin feels too tight and my blood too warm.
I wish I could pause this moment, unroll time so that I can examine his expression and his body language, and so I can catalog my own body’s abnormal response. But time never stops for my overactive brain, certainly not when his fingers slip up from my collarbone, over my frantic pulse, and grip my chin. The seconds disintegrate into impossibly shorter intervals, and his thumb treks upward to catch at my bottom lip.
I break away then, gasping and holding my chest like I’ve just been pelted by another Frisbee, by a dozen of them.
This . . . the way my heart is beating unreasonably fast . . . it doesn’t make any sense. And I don’t like when things don’t make sense.
It’s not like I’ve never seen an attractive guy before. I’ve even gone on dates with a few. But I’ve never had this kind of physical reaction to anyone. It’s unsettling not to understand why.
I put several feet between us and glare at him. “I told you to stay away from me.”
He hums and frowns and says, “No. No, I distinctly recall you saying you were supposed to stay away from me.”
“Oh, gorgeous. If what you’re supposed to do and what you actually do are always the same thing, I think I need to stage an intervention.”
A tide of thoughts rolls in, and I try to keep them at bay, but there’s no stopping it.
Normal college thing #1:
Hook up with a jock.
When I’d written those words, they’d been innocuous. An item on a list. It had been solely about exploration, about making sure I was being educated in every way, not just in the classroom. But even then, the words had been somewhere between a joke and a proposition so outlandish that I felt relatively confident I’d never be in a position to complete it. But now there’s a sensuality to those thoughts that didn’t exist before.
Before I’d stood face-to-face with just such a jock.
Before he’d touched me.
Before I’d wanted to touch him back.
It doesn’t feel like a joke anymore.
On the heels of that sensuality, anxiety swoops in, filling all the leftover nooks and crannies. Because, though I’m familiar with the term “hook up” in all its slang meanings, I’m not familiar with it in the physical sense.
I’ve never had sex.
I’ve always meant to. It’s something that I’ve tended to view rather clinically, a normal biological occurrence that shouldn’t intimidate me. But there was never anyone with whom I’d felt enough compatibility, and I’d always felt that if you’re going to do something, you should do it right. When I started making that list last week, it only made sense that I should check off that particular event while I did the rest of my experimenting.
“Clinical” is not the word that comes to mind when I look at Mateo Torres.
“I was joking about the intervention,” he says.
“I know,” I snap, defensive.
“Well, you looked a little terrified, so I thought I should put you at ease.”
“I’m not terrified.”
It’s silly to be scared of him. He tilts his head to the side, and before I can react, he’s eliminated all the precious space I put between us.
“You don’t have to disagree with everything I say.”
I step back a foot, but he follows.
“I’m not.” He only grins, and why is my pulse increasing like that? “I’m not disagreeing with you only to disagree. You’re just wrong.”
“And I bet you love being right.”
I frown, unsure what that has to do with him refusing to give me any personal space. I move again, and when he tries to follow, I press a hand into his chest, holding him back.
“Well, I am right a majority of the time, which is why I feel confident in my initial assessment of you.”
He leans into me, and I can feel the warmth of his skin through the thin shirt that separates us. My hand is just over his heart, and its steady, strong thrum somehow feels like a chisel, chipping away at my defenses through that simple, innocent touch. I pull my hand away quickly, and he takes it as an opportunity to move even closer. He grins, and I can say positively that I have never met a man this confident. And my family is Italian, so that’s saying something.
“And what was your initial assessment?” he asks.
“That you are only concerned with yourself. With how you look. How people see you. And I am the complete opposite. I am concerned with facts. With ideas. With knowledge. I want to be the puppet master, while you are content to be the puppet that doesn’t realize he’s letting other people pull his strings.”
A muscle in his cheek spasms. His eyes widen in surprise, maybe even alarm. Then his jaw clenches, settling his whole expression into stone. But even that lasts only a moment before the tension leaves him, and he pins me with a lazy half smile.
“I do like a girl who’s feisty.”
He’s baiting me. Or more likely deflecting. And I’m not sure if I want to allow it so that this conversation can be over, and I can get some much-needed space. Or . . . if I want to call his bluff, peel back another layer, and take a longer look at what he’s hiding.