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“Want to talk about it?” I ask as we enter the packed hallway.
She swiftly shakes her head with her attention on the stairway. “No. I deal with it enough while I’m there, so why would I ever want to talk about it?”
“To let some steam off?” It’s more of a question since I have no clue what the problem is. I wish I did, though. Wish she’d just open up to me.
Again, she shakes her head.
She remains quiet until we make it out of the house. Then we both let out a breath of relief as the silence and warm, humid night encompasses us.
“As hot as it is out here,” she fans her hand in front of her face as she trots down the porch stairs, “it’s like ten degrees cooler than the inside of that house.”
“That’s all part of the partying experience.” I follow her off the porch, and then we hike up the driveway toward where my Jeep is parked.
“I’ve never been one for partying.”
“Because of your mom?” she wonders, staring at the road in front of the house.
I nod, my jaw tightening at the mention of my mother.
The gravel crunches under our shoes as we fall into an awkward silence. She makes a quick stop at a car so she can retrieve her phone and wallet.
When she closes the door, she sputters an apology, “I’m sorry. I know you hate talking about your mom out loud.”
“It’s okay.” We reach the Jeep and I open the passenger door for her. “I never would have told you about her if I couldn’t handle you bringing her up.”
She looks remorseful as she swings around me. She must feel really terrible too, because she ends up giving me a quick kiss on the cheek.
“Thanks for tonight,” she whispers then ducks in and closes the door.
A hint of a smile touches my lips as I round the back of the car. I hop in, rev up the engine, and then maneuver past the cars toward the road.
Clara retrieves her phone from her pocket. “I just need to text my ride and tell them I’m going home with someone else,” she explains as her fingers hammer against the buttons.
“Dana?” I wonder as I drive toward the one ice cream parlor in town that’s open this late.
She shakes her head. “No… Lyle gave me a ride here from work.”
“Oh.” I frown, feeling more jealous than I probably should. She’s not mine. She can ride with whomever she wants.
“Don’t be like that. Lyle and I are just friends.” She reads me like an open book. “He had the same shift as me tonight and offered me a ride so I didn’t have to take the bus.”
“We’re just friends.” As soon as I say it, I wince, wanting to retract the words. “Sorry, can we just pretend I didn’t say that?”
“As long as you’ll stop being a weirdo about me getting a ride with Lyle. I don’t think of him like that. I don’t even find him attractive.”
“But you find me attractive.” I waggle my brows at her. “In fact, you find me so attractive that you’re going to buy me cookie dough ice cream.”
She sets her phone down on the dash. “How on earth does that prove I’m attracted to you?”
I shrug as I turn into the parking lot of the dimly lit ice cream store. “It doesn’t, but I want you to buy me ice cream so I won’t feel so cheap and used after the dirty stuff you did to me tonight.” I flash her a lopsided grin as I park the car.
“After all the dirty stuff I did to you tonight?” She opens the door to get out. “Yeah, because you played no part in it.”
I elevate my hands in front of me. “I was just lying there on the desk when you reached around and grabbed my ass.”
“Jax,” she hisses as a group of guys stroll by, “not so loud.”
“Why? You shouldn’t be embarrassed. Any guy would love for you to grab—”
She leans over the console and covers my mouth with her hand. The guys outside have stopped to listen, their attention causing Clara to boil with irritation. “You don’t need to tell the whole world.”
“Why? No one cares.” My lips brush against her palm as I speak. “You don’t know those guys over there, so what does it matter?” I don’t want to fight with her. I only want her to say it, whatever it is that’s stopping her from admitting she likes me.
“Because it does.” An exhale eases from her lips then she lowers her hand from my mouth. “Now, can we please, pretty please, go get some ice cream? My treat. I’ll even have them put extra cookie dough on yours.”
I briefly consider refusing to get out of the car until she confesses her secret, but then a silent plea floods her eyes. It’s the same look that got me into this situation to begin with—where I’m her friend/fuck buddy when really I want to be her friend turned lover.
“Fine,” I surrender, opening the door. “But I’m only getting out for the extra cookie dough.”
She smiles, then jumps out of the Jeep, and shuts the door. We cross the parking lot and stroll into the store. My phone starts vibrating as I’m scanning the menu, so I fish it out of my pocket. Tapping a few buttons, I open my texts while breathing in the sugary smelling air. Man, there’s something about ice cream after sex that makes my mouth salivate.