Monday, August 1, 2011

Chapter Sixteen

Sorry this is such a huge chapter, but I couldn't decide on a proper break.  Let me know what you think- I'd appreciate it. :)

Jen



CHAPTER SIXTEEN

Bekah thought she must have run her brush through her hair a zillion times, and her hands were shaking like she’d downed the whole flipping bottle of pain pills.  She’d changed her clothes at least twice- totally unnatural for her ever since the Towers incident- and she’d very cautiously applied her make-up.  No curls today, just a good brushing and some clips to keep her fluffy locks from falling into her face.

Why all of this craziness for a guy she wasn’t even sure she liked?

Her stomach quivered and the vague memory of their kiss stirred to the surface. The details were far from clear.  All she knew was that she’d fallen asleep and he’d carried her- actually carried her- to the couch.

Two hours later, she’d awakened with a pounding headache and there sat Ryan Shields, smiling and holding his iPhone in front of him.   

She’d gasped.  “What are you doing here?”

“You don’t remember?” His smile had gone *poof* in a puff of smoke.

Bekah’s memory had then jogged backward to the pain pills and Chinese food- and then to their kiss.  Forget everything in between, apparently her subconscious had devoured that kiss like she’d devoured the fortune cookies Ryan had tossed her.

“Eat these and maybe your memory will come back,” he’d said with a wink- not knowing that her memories had already begun to sputter like a lazy locomotive.

And then a little more throughout the week- things he’d said about Dan began to pop up. Just snippets about how Dan worried too much but Ryan had actually seemed to look up to him.

But that kiss.  Geez, what had she been thinking?  What had he been thinking? 

More importantly, what did it mean for her now? 

She glanced down at her splinted finger and wondered the same thing she’d been wondering all week: what the heck did it all mean for her now?

She’d felt like a creep for decking Brian, not knowing what might have been going on in his big jock world that had influenced him to act like a creep.

Maybe he wasn’t any bigger of a sinner than she was and maybe she deserved a nice, big pop in the nose, too. Though she guessed that by delivering her punishment, she’d received one in the process. In the form of a broken knuckle.

After a week of sitting here at home- alone for the most part- she still felt like her brain was too crammed with ‘what the hecks’ and ‘what if’s.’  Reading did nothing to clear them. Watching TV merely distracted her, and listening to music made her edgy, especially when Hotel California jumped onto the radio.

The doorbell rang and she nearly spilt the cup of coffee she’d poured herself. Luckily the kitchen sink caught what little bit of the brew managed to leap over the side of the mug, and thankfully her taped, splinted finger didn’t get wet.

Leaving her half-empty cup on the counter, she traipsed into the dining room and snatched her black jacket.

Why had she agreed to go out with Ryan? Was she completely stir crazy from stale air and the memory of a drunken kiss?

He’d mentioned taking her to their house.

Crap.  Shields’ house. Dan’s house!

She felt about as nauseated as a pregnant lady, and thinking that way didn’t help things.  She and Ryan could have seriously screwed up the other night, and saying bye bye to her virginity wasn’t currently at the top of her priority list. 

She may have been a vixen before Towers, but she’d drawn the line for various reasons.

At the front door, Bekah peeked through the peep hole. Ryan stood out there, gazing down the road.  The sky above him looked nice and clear but she thought she saw a bit of icy breath streaming out of his mouth. 

She opened the door to a burst of cold air filled with the scent of burning leaves.  She’d always loved that smell.  With it always came the memory of sitting on her driveway, reading Candy Witch.  Her father raking the yard nearby.  Her neighbors setting out ghoulish decor. 

Ryan snapped his attention from whatever he’d been staring at and bent to study her through the screen door as though peering in on a caged pet. 

“Hey,” he said. “I…hope you’re not having second thoughts about this.”

He must have seen the uncertainty on her face…something she normally tried to hide, but her doubts seemed too difficult to shrug away at the moment. They lingered like the sense of Freddy Kruger’s claws just around the corner. 

“Ryan…I don’t know what the heck I’m doing.”

He winced and pointed at the door handle. “Come on, Rebekah, let’s talk.  Don’t cut me loose just yet, OK?”

“I didn’t say I was doing that.  I just don’t know what the heck I am doing.”

“Open up and we’ll find out.”

His eyes glistened like his brother’s as he stood there, wordlessly pleading. 

Inhaling as deeply as if she’d just been underwater, she pulled the keys from her pocket and stepped onto the front stoop.  Turning, she locked the door and then shivered when he wrapped his hand around her free one. 

His thumb gently caressed her wounded finger and he leaned in close to whisper, “I’m sorry about the kiss.  I couldn’t resist.”

Although she produced a smile tiny enough to belong to a mouse, her insides swelled with the feel of his breath against her cheek.

Now she wondered if the alcohol had really influenced her to give in to that kiss or if she would have done it either way.  And his touch kept stirring memories- memories of Ralph at first.  But now she recalled how she’d grabbed a certain guy by the collar and stood on her tiptoes to lay a heavy lip locker on him.

Her boldness came in many different forms.

Her smile faded as she remembered how that particular guy had responded to her kiss.

“What are you doing? I have a girlfriend,” he’d said.

Her reply?  “So?”

How could she have said “so?”  She’d then convinced him to kiss her of his own accord and if that didn’t scream sinful, she didn’t know what did.

Geez, she’d been a witch in so many different ways but didn’t understand why.

Ryan lead her to the car, her head hanging all the way and her frown becoming more intense. Despite knowing she’d been wrong, she’d enjoyed the rush. She’d always enjoyed the rush, just like she had Monday night with Ryan.

Once they climbed into his black convertible, she buckled herself and released a long, slow breath.

“Do you want to talk here or wait until we get to the house?” Ryan shoved the key in the ignition. “I get the feeling there’s a lot you want to say and...hopefully I’m not in big trouble.”

“Not exactly.” She pulled her seatbelt on and watched some leaves swirling along her front lawn.  “I really don’t know, Ryan.  I guess I should be ticked at you, but I’m not.”

“Just confused, huh?”

“That would be a yes.” She turned to him again, surprised at the lack of humor in his expression. He’d struck her as the kind of guy to make light of situations, but he seemed to be taking this one as seriously as it needed to be taken. Which was a darn good thing, because joking around right now might have earned him a verbal lashing.

“Well…let’s get you out of this ‘hood for the night and maybe we can start over.” He began backing out of the drive. “I’d really like to show you the house first, if you don’t mind.”

She stiffened.  “Is…your brother there?”

He shot her a double take and she gripped the door handle as the car rolled into the street. 

“Yeah, I think he is.  He and Allie went to the mall earlier but he was cooking dinner when I left.”

Dan cooking dinner.  She pictured him wearing an apron and flipping pancakes – and ignoring her, despite everything that had happened this week. And that would just have to be peachy keen with her.

“Is that OK with you?” Ryan asked.

“Just a little weird is all.” Not to mention awkward. “I’ve never been to a teacher’s house.”

Ryan chuckled. “Well, there’s a first time for everything.  To be honest, I really want you to see the attic.”

“The attic?”

“Yeah.” His grin broadened. “Just wait and see.”

OOOO

Bekah immediately felt jealous when Ryan steered them into Bexley.  She’d been through this neighborhood before, admiring the sheetless windows, the neatly kept yards, the various styles of homes, from large to medium and small, and the serenity of it all. No booming rap or squealing rock music and the little kiddies riding their bikes along the sidewalks most often were accompanied by adults. Unlike in her neighborhood, where the crack-addict parents allowed their sweet little tots to wander around unsupervised.

Many times, Bekah had been tempted to swipe the cuties up and drive them straight to children’s services. Maybe she would one day. After all, if she ever wanted to become a cop, she’d have to start being more assertive and taking a stand about issues like that.

But she guessed calling Children’s services might have been better than kidnapping a kid and taking them to their doorstep.

She didn’t know.  Shouldn’t neglected children be rescued right away?

Ryan slowed near a two-story, stone house that looked like it belonged to someone with a higher salary than a school teacher’s.  She still wasn’t sure if Ryan worked and Allie must have been too sick to work.  

Pulling up the drive, he hit the garage door button and the big, white portal opened to reveal a red Jeep and two motorbikes- and an empty space next to those. 

A three car garage, four vehicles and a large, stone house in Bexley, Ohio?  The taxes alone would kill them, from what she’d heard.

Ryan peeked at her after several seconds of her staring. 

“You guys live here?”

He nodded. “Yes ma’am, been livin’ hear for ‘bout a year and half.”

“How…I mean, teachers aren’t exactly rich.”

Ryan tossed his head back and laughed. “Oh, man…how ironic.”

“What?”

“You’ll see, my pretty.” With a wink, he killed the engine and in a flash had rounded the car to help her out, but she’d opened the door and was sliding out on her own. 

“What, did your parents help you with this place or something?”

He took her hand. “Something like that but not exactly.”

So, what did that mean? 

Can’t you take a hint?  He’s trying to tell you they’re loaded!

Her legs felt as stiff as the Tin Man’s as they passed some metal shelves stacked with rows of Coca-Cola cans and bottled water.  She waited at the bottom of two wooden steps while Ryan unlocked the door.

Rich. Dan Shields was rich?  What the heck was he doing, working at a school like hers if he didn’t have to?

Ryan pushed open the door but her inclination to hit the road heightened as he held his hand out to her.  Part of her wanted to see what lie ahead and part of her thought she’d screwed up massively by coming here. Not only had Teacher’s mysterious side just risen a couple of notches, but why would Ryan want to date a girl like her?  Handsome, loaded guys didn’t usually pick brats from crack-infested ‘hoods.

“Hey, come on. No chickening out.” Ryan took her hand while ushering up the steps with his other arm wrapped around her back.  And voila, she entered, greeted by the scent of what she thought was roasted chicken.

About ten feet down, a slice of light cut into the dim hallway from an open room, and as Ryan lead her toward it, she heard pages turning and stopped.  The room with the open door.  The pages turning.

He must have been in there.

Ryan turned to her, placing his finger in front of his mouth and winking again.  With that, he shuffled forward and banged loudly on the outside wall. Bekah jumped.  Ryan roared, but not at her. “Scared the crap out of you, I see.”

“Ry, you about gave me a coronary.” Teacher’s voice did funny things to her insides and her nails pressing into her palms wasn’t exactly a pleasant experience.

“Sorry, couldn’t resist.  Hey, Rebekah’s here.” Ryan pointed in her direction and she felt like ducking into the nearby closet.

No, no, don’t tell him I’m here. Just show me the flipping attic and let’s get the heck out of here.

She fully expected Dan to say something like “OH?  Tell her hi for me.”

Instead, she heard a chair creaking and footsteps muffled by the plush carpet.  His hands in his pockets, he peered out at her- a shadow because of the light behind him, just like on Monday, but even more of a shadowy enigma because of what she’d just learned about him. 

“Hey, Woman,” he said. “How’s your hand?”

Heat flooded her cheeks and she thought it a freaking good thing she wasn’t standing in that light, too. 

“Hey, I’ll get us a drink,” Ryan announced. “Tea, pop?  Coffee?” He backed toward the end of the hall and Bekah inched forward.  If he thought he was going to leave her alone with Dan for even a minute.

Come on, you know you want him to.

Man, this was so screwed up. She stopped just short of Dan’s room and said, “Coke.”

Dan grunted. “Ry, give her some tea, too.  She’ll need it to wash down all that sugar.”

Did he really care?  She kept her gaze fixed on Ryan, who pointed at his brother with his thumb while shaking his head. “Don’t mind him, he cringes when anyone downs the sugar in his high and mighty presence.”

“Knock it off, Ry.”

“Well you do.”

Bekah raised a brow at Ryan’s change in demeanor.  While with her in the car, he’d been much more serious but he’d converted to a jokester as soon as they’d entered the house.

Thankfully, Ryan didn’t go far, ducking left and lighting up what she assumed to be the kitchen.

She peeked at Teacher, who now leaned against the door frame, watching her. 

“Well… I guess I should probably stick with Ryan.”

“No, wait a minute.” Dan motioned at her splint. “How’s it going with that?  What’s the doctor say?”

She clenched her teeth.  After all that talk about maintaining their distance…after scolding her on Monday and ignoring her after she’d clocked Brian, why was he suddenly acting so concerned?

And why are you suddenly so ticked?

“Not much.” She shrugged.

Teacher narrowed his eyes.  “Rebekah-“

“I haven’t read Narnia yet, if that’s your next question.”

He visibly stiffened.  “I wasn’t about to ask that, but it’s a good question.  And what about Tess of the D’Urbervilles and Lord of the Flies?  Have you obtained copies of those?”

“I’ve been too busy watching TV and eating chips, not to mention staying hidden so that none of the punks in my neighborhood knew I was alone.”

She wondered why she’d tacked on that last part, but distinctly suspected that she’d wanted more of his attention- and that was one way to get it.  Talk about a wishy-washy mess.  She ran her good hand through her hair.

She never ran her fingers her hair. Never.  She probably looked like a flirt, just as she had with Towers. 

No end to her screw-ups tonight, she guessed, and realizing they were rich made her feel at least five times more awkward. Why were they interested in her?

“I’m glad you stayed safe, but I hope you’re joking.” Teacher sounded a bit husky.

“About which part?”

“All of it.”

“Not the last part.” She shrugged.  “There are a lot of fruitcakes in my neighborhood and frankly I felt like zombie bait.  If any of them spied me through a window, I probably would have been toast.”

“Why didn’t you go to work with your mom? Take the car and go somewhere else?”

“I did on Thursday.”

“If you’re so worried about this, why do you ever go home alone?”

“Alice hangs out a lot and besides, there are usually more kids strolling the streets in the evening. Kind of keeps the creeps away, but most of the kids are at school during the week, so…”

She could swear Teacher cursed under his breath. 

“I wish I could do something for you.”

“Do you?” She raised one brow and Dan looked dumbfounded. 

“The return of the attitude, I see.  Listen, Rose-”

“Rebekah you mean.”

“It’s easier to say Rose, do you mind?”

“Hey, hey kids, let’s play nice.” Ryan returned with two glasses filled with pop and ice. She readily received hers and made sure to gulp at least three-fourths of the syrupy sweet drink just to thoroughly annoy Teacher.

Sure enough, he cringed and headed back into his room- or office or whatever it was.

Once she’d lowered the glass, she found Ryan gaping at her.

“Headache much?” he asked.

It took a second, but sure enough the ice cream headache slammed her and she pressed her fingers to her forehead.  Ryan snickered, leaning in to whisper, “Does he always bring out the viper in you?”

No, she thought as they began to move forward.  Not always.

Ryan stopped and she could tell by the way he looked up that they weren’t squeezing past Teacher’s room quite so easily.  He appeared in the doorway again, his large fingers clamped around a small stack of books like they were nothing more than a sandwich.

“Read these, Rebekah…I expect a Tess rewrite on Monday morning.”

She bit her inner cheek to keep from smirking.  “You expect me to read the whole book over the weekend?”

He smoothed his waves and a few strands of hair fell over his glistening forehead while he explained, “With all the time off you’ve had, I assumed you would have already read it.  If you care about your grades, that is.”  

Behind him stood a bulky, paper-cluttered desk and beyond that a large picture window framed by forest green drapes.  Shelves chockfull of books lined the walls- at least what she could see of them.

He followed her gaze into the room for a moment and Bekah looked down at the stack of books in her hands.  The Magician’s Nephew was the very first one. Despite herself, she smiled and pulled that one away to find The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe… and then Lord of the Flies and finally- Tess

He’d handed her books off of his own shelves.

Shields cared…that was why he taught in a run-down neighborhood like hers. He actually gave a flip, but she still didn’t understand why. 

Handing the last book back, she confessed, “OK, so I’ve been reading it.  Relax, Teach, I’m not as big of a dunce as you think.”

“Glad to hear it and thank you.” He nodded sharply, received the book and tossed it toward his desk. 

With a tug of her hand, Ryan asked if she was ready for a tour and Bekah shook her head while she traced the three, interlocking rings on the misty green cover of the Narnia book.  Below the rings stood the silhouette of boy amidst what reminded Bekah of bird baths, but they were too big.  Beneath all of that- the Lion from the movie she’d seen.  What’s his name?

Aslan.

She waved as Ryan lead her away, but Dan simply looked troubled and retreated to his office.  Hopefully he felt jealous.

Nice thought, she scolded herself when they entered a large living area.  There, the aroma of the cooking chicken drew a gurgle from her stomach. 

Ryan turned on a light and the square, glass topped coffee table positioned inside the “L” of the leather couch and matching loveseat shined as though someone had just wiped it down with Windex.  Had they cleaned this place themselves or hired a maid?

He pointed out the dining room at the head of the living room, where stood another glass-topped table with a blue runner down the middle.  And seashells.  The curtains matched the runner.  Blue, seashells…she supposed the fluffy, beige carpet was supposed to be the sand, but it looked so clean that she guessed they’d recently had it shampooed.

Must have been nice to be able to do things like that on a regular basis.  She and her mother had repositioned furniture over stubborn stains, her mother swearing multiple times that one day she’d hire a professional to work the whole living room over. But so far, all the money kept flying to greedy utility companies, super-saver grocery stores and thrift stores.

Before she could inspect the kitchen, a jolt of electricity, compliments of Ryan’s hands on her hips, nearly caused her to drop the books. 

“Now for the attic,” he whispered in her ear and she nearly used one of the books to fan herself.

Not so long ago she would have responded to his forwardness by turning and demanding a kiss, but the vampette in her needed to stay buried. Last time she’d been unleashed, assault, a few newspaper articles, and several trips to the courthouse had followed.

But Ryan, rich or not, wouldn’t have objected to her throwing herself at him.

Would Dan?  She wondered…if he was anything like Towers, he’d cave.  If not, he’d stay strong. 

At the top of the stairs, Ryan pointed right. “Allie’s room is in there. I think she’s resting before dinner.”

“Dinner?”

“Yeah, Dan’s roasting a chicken with potatoes and stuff.  Do you mind eating here?”

Bekah took a breath, unsure what to think about all of this.  The confusion of the kiss, the transportation from her ugly, rough neighborhood to this pristine place.  Handsome, rich guys fussing over her and now Ryan wanted her to eat dinner with them?

When was the last time she’d been invited to dinner with anyone?  Alice usually ate at her house- rarely vice versa, because her brother was such a slovenly jerk and wouldn’t clean up after himself.

“We don’t have to eat here if you don’t want to…but I will admit Dan is a good cook, so you’d be missing out.” He winked and knocked on a closed door. “That’s my bedroom, but I won’t take you in there…yet.”

Bekah wondered about that insidious little “yet,” but followed him down a small hall to the room on the left.  

“This is Dan’s room,” he said, snapping on another light.  A large, wood framed bed- made up neatly with blue and white blankets and sheets stood against the wall next to a window that overlooked the street.  Across from that- another TV.

Of course, Teacher Dear couldn’t forgo a TV in his room, could he? Not with all the other neat things he’d collected for this super-duper bachelor pad.

“His room isn’t always this neat.” Ryan laughed. “It’s never really messy, but rarely this neat. He probably knew I’d show you the attic, so thank him for cleaning up his dirty socks.”

Bekah grinned. Dan hadn’t struck her as the kind of guy to leave his dirty socks lying around, but that was definitely an interesting tidbit. So was the fact that he’d cleaned up to impress her bratty, downtrodden self.

And the books.  She’d given him books off of his own shelf- not that they were an extravagant gift or anything, but something about the gesture had managed to melt her heart.  She hugged his belongings a bit too closely, warmth brewing in her cheeks and her confusion scattered when Ryan waved her toward the closet.

She frowned but followed. A Bible and some sort of study volumes sat on the waist-high dresser in front of her, but Ryan quickly directed her attention to a button on the wall. He pressed it and the panel door slid open.

Bekah gaped.  “What the heck?”

Ryan laughed again.  “Come on, hot stuff, and I’ll show you what the heck.”

She followed him into a walk-in closet and the rude brother alert finally kicked in. Why would Ryan show her Dan’s closet? 

When she saw the stairway to her right, she understood.

But she couldn’t decide if she wanted to inspect teacher’s clothes before discovering where the yellow brick road would lead.  She spotted some tuxedos and a whole variety of GQish suits, not to mention more biker gear.

“Are you getting the picture yet, Rebekah?”

She scanned over the multiple pairs of shoes tucked into some wall slots before looking back to her date.

“What?  Call me Bekah, OK?”

“Bekah.” He grinned. “Sounds good to me.  Are you getting the picture yet?”

“What picture?”

He nodded at the clothes, the door, the stairs. “Think about it.  Big house, cool cars, motorcycles…and wait until you see what’s up there.” He pointed up the stairs.  “Bekah, what I’m trying to tell you is that Dan isn’t living on a teacher’s salary.”

“That’s stating the obvious.  So, how did you guys get to be such richlings?”

He closed one eye and said. “Aye, Matey, I’ll get to all of that in good time.  Follow me, Lass.”

The solid wooden stairs barely creaked as they traveled upward and her curiosity began to brim when they rounded the railing at the top.  Ryan pulled a chain to illuminate the small area and her breath caught.

At the far end of the room, a wooden L bench wrapped along the wall, giving way to a queen sized bed with white sheets.  A round table large enough for games and meals sat in front of the bench, and the mini-refrigerator, sink and range top stove made her wonder just where the heck they’d stashed the currently much-needed bathroom to this studio apartment

At the end of the small counter stood a long, white plush couch and across from that, with a swivel stool behind it, a large telescope stretched toward a skylight window.

“Dan’s attic observatory,” Ryan said.  “It’s all of ours, technically, but it was Dan’s idea- he’s got this fascination with the stars and planets.”

“Really?” She hadn’t heard him mention them, but they’d been so awkward in the midst of their attraction that not too many words had flown between them.

That was a shame.

She handed the books to Ryan. “As much I’m looking forward to spending time up here, I seriously need the little girls’ room.”

Ryan smirked. “Top o’ the stairs, Lass.  Can’t miss it.”

“There isn’t one up here?”

“That’s next on the list.” He winked. “Personally, I think Dan’s preparing for a zombie apocalypse or something.”

Bekah laughed.  “You’re a zombie buff, too?”

“Oh, heck, yeah.  I’ll show you my stash of weapons later.”

“Are you serious?”

“Yes and no.  You never know what crap will hit the fan in this crazy world.”

True, that

She thanked him and hurried back down the narrow stairs and toward the restroom.  When she’d finally made it, she thought she couldn’t move fast enough.  She’d never been invited to a house like this, never seen anything as cool as that attic observatory and couldn’t wait to experiment with the telescope.

Her father used to own a small scope that they’d used a few times on clear nights when the mosquitoes were out seeking fresh blood.  Despite the little menaces, she’d managed to enjoy gazing at the moon. The craters had always fascinated her and Daddy-O would make up silly stories as to how they’d gotten there.

“Marvin the Martian,” he’d say.  “Experimenting with all his weapons.”

“Daddyyy,” she’d laugh.  “Tell me how they really got there.”

Wearing a smile, she stepped into the hall and jumped when she heard, “Rebekah!”

“Huh?” she spun to find Allie peering out of her room- at least she thought it was Allie. Wearing a pink dress and a smooth make-up job, she looked much healthier than she had at the bowling alley.  Apparently, she’d had her hair cut, too, because it feathered to one side and curled outward at the shoulders.

Allie waved her over and placed her finger in front of her lips to signal her to stay quiet.

Bekah nodded and whispered, “You look great!”

The older girl smiled. “Thanks.  Dan took me to the mall and got me a makeover.  He’s so sweet sometimes…” She peeked into her room and then back out. “But he worries too much, so I need you to do me a favor, if you don’t mind.”

Bekah stepped forward so that she could hear the “favor” more clearly.  Allie pointed at a red bump on her forearm and cautioned, “Don’t touch this.  I’m not sure what it is, but I need the cream from the fridge downstairs.  See, I’ve been getting these skin infections…” She crinkled her nose.  “They usually clear up quickly if you get stuff on ‘em right away.”

Unsure what to say, Bekah nodded again. She wasn’t used to dealing with stuff like this or outright dealing with other peoples’ problems. In fact, she was a selfish little witch if there ever was one.

“I’m sorry to bother you with this. I don’t think this is one of the infections, but I just want to make sure, you know?”

“Sure.  What exactly is it?”

Allie bit her lip and lowered her eyes. “Maybe MRSA.” Looking at Bekah again, she asked, “Have you heard of it?”

Bekah had and was glad she understood more about it than the others probably realized.

So this was one of Allie’s problems. And the other, most likely anorexia. 

“Yes, don’t worry, I’ve heard of it.”

Allie’s breath released while her shoulders drooped. “Good…the cream I need- it’s an allicin cream…you know, like allicin from garlic?  Anyway, it kills MRSA believe it or not…Dan found it on the net this week and it’s been clearing up this spot up here.” She motioned to her upper left arm.  “As long as you get ‘em when they’re small, I mean- it works well on its own.”

“Well, that’s cool.” Bekah had never heard of anything natural for treating MRSA, but she’d been so stuffed in her cave thinking about herself lately that the entire world seemed to be passing her by.

She guessed it was high time the world reached in to drag her out of her freaking shell.

She agreed to get the garlic cream, with Allie reiterating that Dan worried too much and she didn’t want him knowing about it. If Bekah found him the kitchen, then Allie wanted her to wait until later.

Probably not a good idea to hide it from Dan too long, Bekah thought on her way down the stairs. If she couldn’t get the medicine Allie needed, then something had to be done before the wound grew much bigger. 

She crossed the living room quietly, pausing at the end of the hall that lead to Dan’s study and then tip-toed onto the pearly white kitchen tile, the sliding glass door reflecting her sneaky image and the scent of chicken and potatoes reminding her that she still needed to eat.

But this was fun, trying to help Allie behind Dan’s back. She’d no clue why, but it was almost as thrilling as if she’d been shop lifting.  Though she’d never stolen anything, she’d imagined the rush that might follow a bad girl move like that.

Not gutsy enough to try it, though, and that was a dang good thing. Especially now that her sins were becoming more apparent to her.

She reached the refrigerator at the end of the counter on her left and very carefully opened it so as not to cause any jars or bottles inside to jingle. 

Allie had said the garlic cream would be on the door shelf, so she scanned over the shelves until she spotted the plastic jar with the red letters in front that identified the product:  Allimed.

She pulled it out, carefully closed the door and spun.

She stopped.

She hadn’t expected to run into a broad chest or to be hit so thoroughly with Dan’s musky/woodsy cologne, nor had she expected to see those bulging muscles as he stood there with his arms folded.

Slowly, she raised her head, the gleam in his eyes a hopefully good sign.  He reached for the garlic ointment, wrapping his big hand around hers in an attempt to wrestle the medicine loose.

That cologne, those eyes, those muscles. 

Snap out of it!

“Shields, I didn’t think you’d use this as an excuse to hold my hand.”

What did you just say?

Fortunately, his only response was to squeeze harder until the jar rolled fully into his nice, big paw.  And his voice…his voice sounded smooth and husky when he asked, “I’m guessing Allie sent you for this?”

Her fingers curling around her red shirt sleeves, she twisted her left ankle gently and once again spouted the first thing that leapt into her mind.  “No.” She shrugged.  “I’m an allicin thief.  Can’t get enough of it.”

After a few beats, a grin produced lines in his cleanly shaven cheeks and a breathy snicker carried a minty scent between them.  As if that wasn’t enough to tantalize her, she noticed chest hairs peeking over the top of his shirt buttons.

Why did he have to be so freaking cute?  To make matters worse, the ire she’d felt in his presence earlier had been thwarted by a stack of books from his own library.  And then there was the added dimension to his character that she hadn’t expected. Not that being rich counted as part of his personality, but the very fact that he’d agreed to work in a neighborhood like hers and actually seemed to give a rip about the students spoke volumes about who he really was.

But again- why?

Goodnight, she was melting far too easily.

Assuming her tough girl stance, heals flat on the floor, shoulders squared and chin held high like a nice little military girl, she said, “Yeah, Allie did send me for that.” She pointed at the jar. “And I think we should just pretend we didn’t run into each other so I can complete my task.”

His smile slowly disappeared as he shook his head. “Afraid I can’t let you do that, Rose; I think you need to wash your hands and stay away from her bedroom.”

Bekah felt as though she’d been at the top of a tower and someone had opened the floor beneath her.  “But…Dan…”

He knit his brows, so she corrected, “Mr. Shileds, I mean…She asked me to do this, so I think you should let me take this to her. If you’re worried, go check on her later.”

“Do you know what she’s dealing with?”

“Yes.  She told me…and I know all about MRSA because my dad was a hospital janitor and used to have to take all sorts of precautions.  Relax, Teach, we’ve been exposed like crazy and I’ve never gotten it.”

“That doesn’t mean you won’t now, especially after all that Coke you drank.  Do you have any idea what that stuff does to your immune system?”

She shrugged one shoulder. “I guess so, but I used to down the stuff like water back then, too.”


He cringed again. “Rose, that’s so destructive.”

“Look, just give me a boost of Vitamin C or something. Won’t that help? I’m sure you’ve got some in those cabinets if you’re as big a health nut as you seem.”

He just barely rolled his eyes. “It doesn’t work that easily. You have to build yourself up over time and keep yourself strong if you really want to fight off infections.”

“You’re saying that Vitamin C won’t help at all?”

After gazing at her for a few seconds, he gave his head sort of a side to side. “I suppose it would a little.”

“Then go for it.  Hit me.”

Dan lowered the garlic stuff and gave her a screwed up look. “Why do you want to do this so bad?”

She folded her arms, debating whether to tell him what she’d felt upstairs. So far, opening up to him hadn’t brought about much good.

But she guessed reporting to Mommy that she wanted to help someone wasn’t such a bad thing.

 “I…want to help is all.  I haven’t helped anyone in a long time.  Not even my best friend.” Yeah, fat load of good she’d done for Alice the alcoholic, always sharing vodka with her, encouraging her to drink more.  Geez, something else to feel guilty about. The list just kept mounting and she wished she could turn off her thoughts. But Fred Kruger would gladly point out her flaws if she didn’t discover them herself.

When Teacher slowly began sweeping his chocolate peepers over her face, she added, “I know it’s hard to believe coming from a brat like me, but occasionally my heart gets in the way.”

“In the way?”

“It’s hard to help and be a heal at the same time, right?”

His laughter quiet and sort of hoarse, he leaned against the sink.  “You’re something else, Rose.”

So are you.  She allowed her gaze to drop to his bulging biceps.  No doubt those would feel nice and plump curled against the palms of her hands.  It was all she could do not to reach out and her heart began pounding like it had during Ryan’s kiss.

How quickly her brains had turned to mush.

Teacher crossed one arm over his chest to rest his free hand on the object of her current desire, the ointment held up in his left hand.  His eyes darkened just a touch and his jaws bulged.

She guessed he’d seen her ogling his arms and couldn’t stop herself from blushing if she dunked her head in a bucket of ice water.

“Vitamin C’s in there,” he whispered with a gesture at the cabinet to her right.  “I’ll take this upstairs…I’m not sure how long I’ll be up there, so would you mind checking the chicken for me?”

She glanced down at the oven next to the fridge and shook her head choppily.  She wasn’t sure she could make it back up the stairs at this point, anyway. Teacher had once again rendered her weak in the knees.

“I’m assuming you know how to tell when a chicken is done?”

She tsked. “Well…” She swallowed. “I assume if there’s no blood running out of it and the meat looks nice and white that it’s peachy keen.  Right?”

“That would be correct.” He pushed away from the sink, instructing her to use the giant fork inside the utensil holder on the counter to prick the meat.  After that, he fell silent and then cleared his throat.  “Rose?”

She looked up, immediately enflamed by the drunken look in his eyes. His Adam’s Apple peeked over his collar as his gaze traveled over her face and hair. Yeah.  Finally he was “noticing” her again.

“Don’t take what I’m about to say the wrong way, because I don’t mean to sound patronizing or condescending; but I think I’m seeing some progress in you.”

“Progress?”

“For one, you’re not giving me a hard time like you did when you came in the door.  I don’t think you’re as angry as you seemed to be in the beginning.”

“You mean the beginning of the school year?”

He nodded, the plastic container propped under his chin.  “It seems you’re slowly softening but still a bit confused.”

Ugh.  Now that had sounded condescending but her anger remained on the back burner for some odd reason. 

“Why would you think I’m confused?”

“You can’t decide whether to like or hate me, for one.”

“Wouldn’t it be better if I just outright hated you?”

He lowered the jar to frown at her. “Did that even sound right to you, Woman?”

“No, I’m just saying…you wanted to keep your distance and all.”

He leered toward the dining room as though she’d just hit a nerve.

“Sorry, Teach. Guess I shouldn’t bring all of that up, but you did do a pretty good job of it on Monday.  You even hassled me in front of the whole class.”

He closed his eyes briefly. “I didn’t mean to be such an…a jerk, so I apologize for that, but you do need to start applying yourself.”

“Please don’t talk about my grades right now.”

“Isn’t that the most appropriate thing for us to be discussing?” He searched her while awaiting her reply.

“If that’s the case, then why’d you give me those extra books?  I’m sure you’ll want to discuss those.”

“That’s for a different reason.”

“Lay it on me, I can take it.”

His eyes bulged as though she’d just made an inappropriate remark- but she guessed it could have been taken that way and saying that to a guy who obviously found her attractive might not have been too smart. Still…his reaction had been fun to watch.

As fun as watching those arms.  But it wasn’t just his arms she wanted. Not just his body. She wanted to be held- by the guy with multiple personality twists and an apparent desire to help.  He cared.  When was the last time she’d been held by anyone who truly cared? 

Before she knew it, she’d placed her hand on his bicep. 

His lips parted and he stared as though she’d just completely caught him off guard.

Heck, she’d caught herself off guard but his skin felt so smooth and she’d been right- she could squeeze that plump bicep for hours.  If her heart had been pounding before, now it was going absolutely haywire.

“Rebekah,” he whispered, closing his hand around hers and slowly sliding her arm down to her side.  He’d straightened so that he now towered over her, his breath cascading against her forehead as she gazed up at him.  But she could feel his pulse racing as he squeezed her hand- a satisfying reaction to her touch if she’d ever felt one.

“I don’t know what you’re doing.”  He released her hand.  “That was totally out of line.”

“So is the way you look at me.” How she managed to maintain eye contact, she wasn’t sure but loved the pink that filled his cheeks.

“It’s hard not to notice a pretty girl. That doesn’t mean anything, and quite frankly my concern for you outweighs all of that.”

“Big, strong teacher with big, giant concerns.  Ryan and Allie told me you worry too much.  I guess I’d already sensed that.”

“Rose.” He peered over his shoulder and turned back to her.  “I know you’re a forward, tough girl but let’s learn where to draw the line.”

“I’ve learned.  Occasionally I still screw up, I guess.” Glancing down at his arms again, her heart skipped a beat.  Why couldn’t he just hold her?  Why did society frown upon this so much? What was so wrong with two people learning to care about each other, regardless of their positions?

Still…“I know I shouldn’t have done that, just like I shouldn’t have popped Brian in the nose and a billion other things I shouldn’t have done.  Sometimes it just seems…I lose myself and then I regret it.”  Not that she regretted touching him, not yet anyway. Knowing she was wrong and really feeling it were two different things.

“I understand.” He spoke in a quiet rasp.  “We all do things like that, but please- don’t touch me like that again.”

She knew she couldn’t promise, especially if he made a habit of standing so close to her. 

The ceiling creaked above them and she caught her breath. Stepping back with her heart in her throat, she remembered that she’d come here with Ryan. What would Ryan think of what she’d just done? Had she just screwed up any chances with him?  She framed her face with her hands and whispered, “Ryan.”

“My other concern exactly,” Dan whispered back.  “Check the chicken…I’m taking this to Allie.”

5 comments:

  1. I'm really wondering where this is going to go and what will happen next. I love the Romance aspect of it and I'm pulling for Dan poor Ryan will just find another girl.

    Hurry with the next chapter.

    Jacks

    ReplyDelete
  2. GAH! I'm about to have an aneurism!

    Love the tension in this chapter, and though it is long you're right in not splitting it in two; there's no real marker in there to do it. Besides, why not have a monolithic chapter every so often? :p



    pter, and though it is long you're right in not splitting it in two; there's no real marker in there to do it. Besides, why not have a monolithic chapter every so often? We definitely won't be complaining. :p ve the tension in this chapter, and though it is long you're right in not splitting it in two; there's no real marker in there to do it. Besides, why not have a monolithic chapter every so often? :p



    pter, and though it is long you're right in not splitting it in two; there's no real marker in there to do it. Besides, why not have a monolithic chapter every so often? We definitely won't be complaining. :p

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thank you, Ladies. Nikarra, it looks like the system took your message and rescrambled it. lol

    Jacks, I guess you'd be upset if she ultimately wound up with Ryan, then, huh? ;) Haha, don't worry, I'm not saying that's the case. Just making you sweat a tiny bit. :P

    ReplyDelete
  4. Wow! THAT is what I call tension!
    Excellent chapter! It wasn't long... it fit well!

    I can see a change in Bekah too... she's thinking about other people and their situations, their feelings etc. Dan might be right.

    It was nice to see that Ryan can be trusted upon! It was nicer though to see Dan still attracted to her! *naughty sneer* What can I say? I want them together... doesn't have to be right now... but eventually I;d like to see them together. I also liked her retorts to Dan after their touching. She was bold, but I found it appropriate, even though Dan disapproved. hahahaha

    Suzie

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hey, Suzie...You disappeared! lol I always enjoy your comments and thought you'd have some input on Chapter Seventeen but maybe you haven't read it yet. HOpe to hear from you soon!

    ReplyDelete