The Dare

Page 42

I almost tell her he invited me to California over the summer then bite it back. I feel like she’d make a big deal of it.

Granted, I already opened that stupid door when I let him meet my mother.

It didn’t even occur to me that bringing Conor to dinner last night was crossing that major relationship threshold of introducing him to Mom. I just couldn’t stomach the idea of sitting through the evening without some backup.

You’ve got to hand it to Conor—he didn’t even flinch or fluster. He’d just shrugged and said, “Sure, if you don’t mind picking out my clothes.” His biggest concern was whether he had to shave, and I’d told him if I had to shave then so did he. After a week of his stubble rubbing a raw patch on my chin, I had put my foot down on the facial hair situation. Thinking about it now, that was another relationship milestone.

Mom and I chat for a while longer while I putter around my apartment. We talk about the Spring Gala and finals and whether I want to keep the apartment in Hastings over the summer or move my stuff into storage…a decision I realize I’m putting off until certain other summer plans are determined.

Later, when Conor texts to say he’s coming over with takeout, I consider throwing together some elaborate high school display as a way of asking him to the Spring Gala. Like writing it across my chest in red lipstick or spelling it in underwear on the floor. Then I realize that making a big deal of the ask makes a big deal of the date and maybe that sends the wrong message. So I keep it casual and bring it up over a bowl of my favorite tomato soup and grilled cheese from the diner.

“Hey, so, there’s this Kappa gala coming up. And I was going to ask my other fake boyfriend to be my date…”

Conor raises an amused eyebrow.

“He goes to another school, you wouldn’t know him. Anyway, then I figured, well, since you’ve already met my mother and we’ve escaped a burning house together, maybe you’d go with me?”

“Is this one of those parties where you drag me around the room making other girls jealous and generally treating me like a dick with feet?”

“Yes.”

“Then I accept.”

A giddy smile threatens to break free. Conor makes everything so simple, it’s no wonder I’m so comfortable with him. He makes it easy for me.

I watch as he shoves the last piece of his cheeseburger into his mouth, munching happily, and my good humor falters slightly.

No matter how comfortable I feel, there’s always that whisper of doubt, fear. It’s like white noise, a hum in my head when I’m falling asleep, a persistent warning that maybe we don’t really know each other at all. And that at any moment, the elaborate fantasy we’ve designed could completely and utterly collapse.

 

 

25

 

 

Taylor

 

 

Conor has the artistic aptitude of a gerbil.

I learn this troubling fact when he comes over on Wednesday after his Econ class to find me already in my pajamas and elbow deep in construction paper. The kids are creating paper rainforests in Mrs. Gardner’s class this week and I’ve got about two hundred paper flowers, birds, and other living things to cut out for them tonight. When Conor offered to help, I assumed he had at least a fifth-grade education in tracing and basic humanoid skills at operating a pair of scissors. My mistake.

“What is that supposed to be?” I ask, holding back laughter. Cartoons play in the background while we sit on the living room rug. One of the things I love about working in an elementary school is that it doesn’t let you take yourself too seriously.

“A frog.” He admires his genetic abomination, so sweetly proud of the grotesque creature that were it alive it would wheeze in agony before throwing itself in front of a moving car.

“It looks like a turd with warts.”

“The fuck, Marsh.” With a look of sincere insult, he covers where the frog’s ears would be. “You’re going to give him a complex.”

“He needs a good mercy kill, Edwards.” Giggles sputter out of me and I almost feel bad for Conor’s devotion to his deformed creation.

“Do you spend your off hours poisoning all the less than conventionally attractive baby bunnies, too?”

“Here.” I hand him a few sheets of colored paper where I’ve already traced several flowers. “Just cut these out.”

He pouts. “You’re going to be the meanest teacher.”

“Try to stay in the lines, please.”

Grumbling “whatever” under his breath, Conor retreats into the joyless task of cutting out flowers.

I can’t help but cast surreptitious glances his way, admiring the adorable look of concentration on his face.

How is this real? There’s six feet, two inches of solid muscle and man sprawled out on my floor. Conor constantly blows his hair off of his forehead as he works.

Sometimes I forget how attractive he is. I guess I’ve gotten used to him being around, taken for granted the soft shape of his lips and the masculine curve of his shoulders. The way his skin brushing against mine when we don’t even mean to be touching makes my nerves jitter. The way it feels when he’s on top of me.

When I imagine him inside me.

After a few minutes, I check on his progress to discover he’s spent his time cutting out dicks of protest and lining them up neatly across my living room floor. When he notices me noticing, he crosses him arms and smiles proudly.

“Do you care to explain the dicks?”

“They’re flowers,” he says in a defiant tone, and I can easily picture a younger version of Conor rolling his eyes at high school teachers and flipping them the bird behind their backs.

“They have testicles!” I sputter.

“So? Flowers have testicles. They’re called anthers. Look it up.” He smirks, all full of attitude and mischief. It’s not fair that he’s so charming when he’s being a pain in the ass. If we’d met in high school, I can only imagine the trouble he’d have gotten me into. We’d probably be fugitives by now.

“What if one of your dicks made it into the flower pile and tomorrow I had to explain to their teacher why she has two dozen six-year-olds plastering penises all over her classroom?” With an irritable sigh, I gather up the dicks and dump them in the trash.

“I thought you were using the word rainforest as a euphemism,” Conor replies, unconvincingly and quite pleased with himself. “You know, like birds and bees.”

“They’re in first grade.”

“When I was in first grade, Kai and I once hid in the cabinet under his kitchen sink to spy on his brother’s friends watching Girls Gone Wild DVDs.”

“That explains so much.” When I go to the fridge for a soda, he comes up behind me and catches me around the waist to press his body against mine. He’s hard, and that knowledge sends a current pulsating under my skin.

“Actually,” he murmurs against my neck, “I was just hoping we could take a break so I could get you naked.”

His palms travel up my ribs, while his lips kiss down beneath my ear and across my shoulder where my oversized cropped shirt sags low. When those firm hands cup and squeeze my breasts, I can’t help but arch my back.

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