I’d never been a fan of sweet tea, but I drank mine anyway, because I felt the need to be polite. Apparently, the southern charm was starting to rub off on me. I squeezed my lemon into the tea hoping to somehow mask the flavor. Abby gave me a wry smile as she sipped her tea with such elegance that it made me jealous. I tried not to let her silent teasing distract me from Mrs. McGregor, who, with her perfectly placed blonde hair and easy smile, could easily pass as a former Miss America contestant. She was gallantly discussing an upcoming Haverty event, a cotillion, to which Abby and I were expected to attend. I silently frowned into my tea, because from the sound of her explanation, I suspected frilly dresses were involved.
I immediately started fidgeting with the hem of my shorts, while glancing around the wide open kitchen wondering when Ezekiel would finally make his appearance. Abby noticed my awkwardness, and very sweetly interrupted Mrs. McGregor to ask if Zeke was home. She smiled at the mention of her son’s name and motioned toward the backdoor. “He’s down by the lake,” she said. “He’s expecting you.”
I looked at Abby, raising my eyes. “You’re not coming with me?” I asked, smiling as politely as possible.
“I thought I’d give you two a moment,” she grinned back. “I’ll join you momentarily, besides, Annette has yet to assign me any Cotillion duties.”
“Oh,” Mrs. McGregor beamed, “I knew I could count of you to help out.” I stood in the doorway waiting for Abby to change her mind and make some excuse, but she only shushed me forward. “I’ll take notes on what you need to do,” she promised.
I gritted my teeth at her between the smile. “Thanks so much.”
I thanked Mrs. McGregor for the tea and vanished out the door. Once in the sweltering heat, I was able to curse Abby openly for bailing on me. I stomped down the path toward the water, still muttering under my breath. I was so loud that as I soon as I topped the hill I saw a figure sitting on the dock with their eyes directed solely at me. Mrs. McGregor had been right; he’d been expecting me. I tried to lighten my footsteps, and try out one of those pageant smiles while I continued my way down.
At first glance, I immediately recognized Ezekiel’s hair, the one and only attribute aligning him to his older brother. Although Zeke’s had been recently shaven off, it still shined a honey blonde under the sunlight. If it hadn’t been for that though, I might have thought I’d wandered down to the wrong dock. Honestly, I’d been expecting a man of Grady’s magnified stature and hefty brawn, but Zeke was tall, slender and as I stepped closer I thought that he even looked frail.
“Hello,” he said softly, kicking his feet in the water.
I stopped at the edge of the dock, my fingers tying themselves in knots behind my back. “Hello,” I greeted back, still smiling as widely as possible. I felt a little like a Cheshire cat as my cheeks began to hurt, but he didn’t seem to mind. He was too busy evaluating me, his eyes discerning my every move and expression. Finally, when my smile faded into a worried pout, he smiled triumphantly at me. It was then, when he let his pretenses fall, that I noticed the sunken lines of his face and the dark circles under his eyes.
“The vamp has good taste,” he said with a chuckle. “No pun intended.”
I think I blushed, but I was too preoccupied with the way that he laughed, as if it caused him pain. His hand reflexively fell to his ribcage, but he quickly recovered, masking all hints of his former discomfort. He motioned me forward, patting the spot next to him on the dock. “Have a seat,” he suggested.
I stepped across the dock as if it were broken glass and slid down next to him trying to rock it as little as possible. Once I was comfortable I slipped off my sandals and dipped me feet into the cool water. When I looked up, his hand was stuck out toward me. “Joseph Ezekiel McGregor,” he said taking my hand. “But you can call me Zeke.”
“Emmerson Daniels,” I offered back, applying a firm shake. “I prefer Emmie.”
“And vampires,” he grinned, “or so I’ve been told.”
My mouth dropped open at his sudden bluntness, and I swore I felt my cheeks turn red again. “I bet the vampire loves that,” he laughed brushing his thumb across my cheek. “But then again, who wouldn’t?”
I smacked his hand away from my face. “Stop that,” I said brazenly. “If I wanted to be mocked, I would have gone to Reid.”
He laughed loudly, as if he completely understood. “I’m only joking,” he insisted, kicking his feet in the water again. “Relax.”
The tension in my body vanished with his words, my shoulders slumping as I let out an audible sigh. I hadn’t even realized that I was so wound up. It made sense though; I hadn’t had a moment to myself since I arrived here. Between my training, opening a new business and secretly trying to solve my mother’s murder, I haven’t made time to just take a moment to calm my nerves. “I’m a little stressed,” I admitted trying to shake out my muscles. They felt stiff and contracted even down to my toes. I heard him chuckle at the same time that I felt the water he kicked hit my skin.
“Drama will do that,” he agreed. “Feel free to take a moment.”
It felt nice, de-stressing myself. I kicked my feet wildly in the water, stretched my arms above my head, and let out deep even breaths. The last several weeks were a lot to take in, and I wasn’t sure if a moment would suffice. “I’m not accustomed to this,” I blurted out, throwing my hands in the air. It felt good to get it off my chest, and I could feel myself deflating as I talked. “I’m usually very dull and boring.”
“So was I,” he smiled weakly, “circumstances can change a person.”
“I once thought I was incapable of change,” I explained, remembering the days when I trusted no one, spoke openly to no one and above all, loved no one. “I’m amazed by how quick and easy it all happened.”
“It can come as a surprise,” he said, glancing over at me with a smile. “The important part is to make sure you like the person that it makes you.”
I thought about that and how much I’d changed even in the past week. I thought about being a Witch, or at least being able to accept my powers and learn to control them. More importantly, I thought about Julien, and how easily I’d accepted him into my life, trusting a stranger with the most vulnerable part of myself. I couldn’t help but look at the scar on my palm, remembering the way Julien looked at me, the gentle way he always touched me. I’d become a person who believed that people, despite their nature, could be good. The longer I stared at my hand, recalling the look of doubt on Julien’s face before he bit me, the stronger that conviction became. I liked being that person, the optimist.
Zeke was appraising me again, a smile sneaking across his face. “No regrets,” he said giving me a playful push with his elbow. “That’s what I always say.”
I let out a labored breath, remembering how I’d woken up next to Julien that morning. “No regrets,” I muttered, laughing at myself.
It was quiet for a moment, preoccupied with our own thoughts. The wind blew across the lake, brushing my face with a warm breeze that did little to stifle the heat. “So, may I see the damage?” Zeke asked finally, leaning over to eye my hand curiously. I hadn’t realized I was still rubbing the scar.
I very slowly stretched it out in front of him and opened my palm. He glanced down at it, only briefly before nodding. Then, before I could even react, he was splashing his feet in the water again.
“No lecture?” I asked, surprised.
“If you wanted a lecture,” he smiled out at the water. “You would have gone to Reid.”
I couldn’t help but laugh because he was right. I could practically recite the lecture word for word in my head if I wanted. I eyed him curiously as he leaned back on the dock stretching his arms out above his head. “So, why exactly did I come to you?” I inquired.
“We all make mistakes,” he said staring straight up at the sun. “It doesn’t make you a bad person, it makes you human. I know about mistakes, I figure Abby assumed that we could wallow in the misery of the consequences together.”
I turned around to find him looking up at me. He motioned with his head for me to join him. “Come on,” he insisted, “wallow with me.”
“Oh.” I whispered. “Okay.” I quickly lay back on the dock next to him shielding my eyes from the sun.
We lay there quietly for a few minutes until my curiosity got the best of me. “What mistake did you make?” I asked sheepishly
He didn’t answer at first only giving me an ill amused chuckle. “I’m dying, Emmie,” he said gruffly.
My head jerked toward him, and suddenly he looked even worse than he did before. His cheeks were sallow, and he winced as he adjusted himself again. He caught my panicked breaths and placed a calming hand on my arm. “I have Leukemia,” he whispered. “Diagnosed on my twenty-first birthday six months ago after Grady noticed a hump on my back while I was in wolf form.”
I gaped at him, unnerved by the revelation, but unable to follow his logic. “That can hardly be counted as a mistake,” I told him. “You can’t help that you got sick.”
“You’re right,” he agreed. “But it’s what I did after I found out I was sick that caused the problem. As you can imagine the news threw me for a loop. That night, on a crazed induced whim, I decided to do something that I’d been too deathly afraid to ever do before.”
I waited impatiently for him to continue, his eyes glossing over as he envisioned his words. “I saw Willa on the square that night. She looked as beautiful and out of my league as ever. She was performing for the Harvest Talent show, and I’d always been a sucker for her voice. She was in the middle of playing a song about forever kind of love and I just decided to leap onto the stage, pull the guitar from her shoulder and kiss her like I only had minutes left.”
He twisted his lips around in a painful frown. “Who knew that the gesture would sweep her off her feet, and I would later have to break her heart with the news of my illness?”
I sat up on my elbow, tears welling in my eyes. “That is tragic,” I croaked, finally realizing what all the fuss had been about.
He leaned up facing me almost nose to nose. “Emmie, I know about mistakes” he sighed, steadying me with his hand. “So, its only right that you hear the truth from me.”
“The truth?” I said, my stomach churning in knots.
He gave my shoulder a gentle squeeze. “Julien lied to you. You should have never let him bite you.”
I swallowed hard, my heart twisting in the same fashion as Zeke’s face. All the memories of the previous night came rushing back to me, and my hand clamped around the scars on my palm. “Well,” I said thinking of what I could say to somehow combat his accusation, but nothing could deny the honesty in Zeke’s eyes. “Shit.”
“I’m sorry,” he frowned.
I pursed my lips attempting to hold in the disappointment that threatened to break me. Reid had warned me not to trust him, but I hadn’t listened. Julien had sworn that he’d been completely honest and that everything would be fine and I desperately wanted to hang on to that hope with all my heart. However, the old me had already hardened it to the point that hope was no longer an option. I was that distrusting, cold and unforgiving girl again, the realist.
“Welcome to the club.” Zeke muttered, grabbing his chest in pain again. He patted me kindly on the shoulder before lying back down on the dock and staring up into the sun again. “Now, shall we let the wallowing proceed?”
My head fell back against the hardwood and the tears leaked onto my cheeks. I hated being this person. I’d come back here for a fresh start, to connect with my past in hopes of growing out of my old ways to finally be content with my life, but it seems that I can’t escape it. I’ll always be the one holding back, too scared to give it my all. Zeke’s hand found mine, and we lay silently on the dock cursing our luck.
I was tipsy, it wasn’t the first time, and with my track record, it wouldn’t be the last. The bar was flooded with people, more arriving now that the sun had set and the streetlights outlining the square had come on. Everyone had taken up Zeke’s offer for a night out, but none of them knew that it was only an excuse to help us drown our sorrows. While the rest of them socialized out on the balcony, Zeke and I held firm at the bar sharing shots. Once I felt my head begin to swim, I finally gained enough nerve to ask the question that had been plaguing me all day.
“Why is Julien a mistake?” I asked a little too loudly.
Zeke looked around checking for nosey bystanders before leaning in close to my ear. “He’s a vampire,” he chuckled, and I realized that Zeke couldn’t hold his liquor any better than I could. Now I knew why he invited the family, because we would need someone to help us home.
“I’m being serious,” I asserted finishing the remainder of my shot. It went down smoothly, which meant I was approaching my limit. “I mean, I understand that he may be a little protective of me now or something.”
“Protective?” Zeke said making a face. “Try obsessed.”
“He’s a half vampire,” I reminded.
Zeke held up his glass while he tried to be serious. “A half vampire who’s never had undiluted blood before,” he shot back.
I bit my lip remembering how Julien had explained how his mother gave him transfusions of various types of blood. I guess I never stopped to consider the reason behind it, and now that I did, I wish Zeke hadn’t brought it up. However, before I could voice my concern Zeke was babbling again. “Besides the obsession isn’t even the worst part,” he said, finally throwing back his drink. “The scary part is that you’re falling in love with him.”
“Why is that so scary?” I asked, even though I could feel a lump in my throat at the thought of the word love. I couldn’t make myself believe that it had already come to that. He was handsome, charming and quiet possibly the best kisser to ever exist, but I wasn’t convinced that it was love. Although, having never experienced the indescribable sensation before, I doubted if I would recognize the symptoms.
“Julien is on a time frame just like me,” he said, swaying on his stool. “We only have so much we can offer. I manned up and told Willa, it’s only fair that Julien do the same.”
“What do you mean?” I asked, straightening him up. “Is Julien sick too?”
“No,” he said shaking his head. “There will always be seven true vampires, just like every male born in my family will be a wolf.”
He was confusing me now, and I don’t think it was only because my ability to discern information was fading. “Yeah, so?”
“When Julien’s father dies, he will take his place.” He gave me a moment before finishing. “One day Julien will be a real vampire, capable of all those things that he’s trying so desperately to convince you won’t happen.”
“No,” I said, recalling how Julien had mentioned his father’s attempt to groom him into the vampire lifestyle. “It can’t be true.”
“If you don’t believe me,” he sighed. “Ask Rebekah, Julien’s mom. She fell in love with his father while he was still a half vampire, and I can assure you, if it weren’t for Julien, she’d regret it.”
“And what if there was no Julien, and his father died?”
“There will always be seven. There is always a son to take their place, it’s part of the curse.”
I took that moment to effectively fall off my stool. I imagined Julien as the age-old stereotypical vampire. His eyes were black, his face pale with his blood covered fangs bared as he twirled around under a long dark cape. It was ridiculous, I knew, but it was easier than envisioning the real monster that he would surely become. Luckily, there was a steady hand there to catch me and lift me back to my seat. I looked over my shoulder to see Reid frowning at me. I smiled despite myself, happy for the distraction and I was surprised when he returned it. “I think you two have had enough,” he said glancing over at Zeke who was spinning his glass across the table.
“I have to say that I agree,” he said hopping off his stool only to stumble into the bar. Willa was already at his side. Her hand grazed down under his elbow as she held him firmly on his feet.
“Hello, Chéri,” he smiled at her, but it was quickly followed by a frown. “I’m really sorry about this. I didn’t mean for you to have to take care of me.”
Willa leaned up and kissed his cheek. “You’re always sorry about everything, Ezekiel,” she sighed. “I enjoy taking care of you. I wish you would let me do it more often.”
When he tried to kiss her, and missed, she called for reinforcements. Grady jumped to her aid toting his brother toward the door. I made it all the way to the stairs before I grabbed the railing and watched the room spin around me. “Oh, no.” I complained. “Whose grandiose idea was it to put a bar upstairs?”
Reid laughed behind me, and I found myself in his arms. “Grandiose? I’ve never heard a drunk with such exquisite vocabulary,” he chuckled, adjusting me in his arms.
“I have many talents,” I pointed out.
“Well,” he laughed. “Just try not to puke on me, that will be a talent unto itself.”
“I’m not making any promises I can’t keep,” I told him before wrapping my arms around his neck.
Once outside, I felt the cool evening breeze hit my face, and I instantly felt better. There was music again, and the sound of hooting laughter above me. I felt mildly ridiculous that Reid had to carry me, but I remembered that at least I wasn’t alone. I glanced around to make sure Zeke was still effectively sharing the burden of attention.
“What got into you two tonight?” Reid asked, swerving us around the people walking down the street. I looked up at him, watching as he smiled apologetically at the people we passed by, adding in an occasional frown to those who let their stares linger too long.
“It’s complicated,” I finally muttered, burying my face into his shoulder to avoid the attention.
“Abby said you were stressed out.” He whispered. “Is it the store? Because I can help out if it’s too much for you.”
I was stunned by the sincerity of his offer, and I felt as guilty as ever. I wondered if he knew the real reason for my distress, if his sudden kindness would vanish as quickly as it’d come. I was slowly growing used to his comfort, and I wasn’t willing to loose it just yet. “It’s not that exactly,” I admitted. “Its that and a thousand other things.”
“Okay,” he said considering my words. “What is your biggest stressor? We can start with that one.”
I chuckled darkly before I could catch myself, and Reid froze mid stride. I looked up to apologize, and somehow lie my way out of telling him the truth about letting Julien bite me, but I realized it hadn’t been me who’d caused his reaction. Reid stopped because my biggest stressor currently stood not four feet in front of us blocking our path down the sidewalk.
“Emmie,” Julien said with a flat, uncertain tone and I could see him appraising me suspiciously.
I wiggled free of Reid’s arms and he set me gently against the ground. I stared blankly at Julien, feeling the urgent need to just burst out in tears as I remembered all the things Zeke had told me today. Julien had purposely led me to believe that he’d always be a half vampire, innocent and misjudged. “What are you doing here?” I asked him in an off hand manner, making sure not to look him in the eye. Even now I couldn’t bear to see the disappointed look on his face, despite my own heart ache.
“I thought we had plans,” he said leaning over, as I turned further away from him. “I went by your house.”
Reid’s grip tightened around my waist, but this time I didn’t need his overreaction because I was about to have my own. “Well,” I said, throwing my hands out. “I’m not at home.”
“I can see that,” he said stiffly.
There was a dead silence between us. Bystanders cautiously passed by while the rest of my family stood across the street watching eagerly. I desperately didn’t want to have this conversation in front of Reid, or in the middle of the street for that matter. Julien stepped toward me, eyeing me as I continued to sway under Reid’s steady hand.
“Can we talk?” He asked. “Alone?”
“No,” Reid and I answered simultaneously.
I glared back at Reid, but he seemed as surprised as I was at my answer. I gave him a look, assuring him that I could handle this without his interference. I slowly turned back to Julien, wincing as I watched him frown at me. “You’re intoxicated,” he said, attempting to make it sound less horrible than it actually was.
“I’ve been a little distraught today,” I admitted.
I couldn’t help but look at Zeke standing arm in arm with Willa across the street. Julien followed my eyes, and Zeke told him all he needed to know about my day with one simple expression. Julien closed his eyes hissing under his breath. “Emmie,” he whispered. “I promise, I was going to tell you.”
I stumbled forward, glaring at him now. All former sympathy I felt for him vanishing completely. “When, exactly?” I inquired with a laugh. “After I fell in love with you?” I stepped even closer, because my next accusation was meant for his ears only. “Or did you think sharing my bed would be enough?”
He bit his lip, fighting back whatever he wanted to say. “You’re intoxicated,” he said again. “So, I’m going to pretend you didn’t just accuse me of that.”
“Pretend all you like,” I told him stepping back, and Reid was quickly at my side to catch me when I almost stumbled over. “Doesn’t change the fact that you lied.”
“I didn’t lie,” he said loudly. “I didn’t want to frighten you. People like me live abnormally long lives, you could be in your eighties by the time my father dies.”
“Or it could be tonight,” I said through my teeth. “You could have at least warned me, all things considered.” I gave him a knowing look as my hand reflexively fisted together.
“Emmie,” he begged holding his hand out. “Please.”
I stepped back, leaning against Reid’s chest, and that is when it happened. It was brief, and if I hadn’t been paying attention I might not have noticed it. Julien bared his fangs at me. Reid had carried me halfway down the street by the time I recovered from the pure shock of it and Zeke and Grady already stood defensively between us.
My head was swaying worse than ever now, and the scene in front of me seemed to move in slow motion. I could hear Reid shouting absurdities over my head, and Julien accusing Zeke of poisoning me against him, all the while Grady played peacemaker between them. I tried to yell, to assure either side that it had all been my own idea, that I had been the one who allowed Julien to bite me and I was now the one deciding that I wasn’t ready to risk my heart because of it.
It was all in vain though; I don’t even think my voice carried beyond my own ears. Maybe I wasn’t speaking at all, and I was only yelling inside my own head. It was impossible to tell. The last thing I truly recalled was Reid warning Julien never to come near me again, that he’d proven without an ounce of doubt that I would never be safe with him. Julien had lunged forward fighting his way between my wolf protectors when I blacked out.
I awoke sometime during the night, my mouth dry and begging for hydration but my head pounded too loudly to make it worth the effort to get up in search of water. I closed my eyes again, sinking my face into the pillow I lay on and pretended that it had all been a dream. The second time I woke up, I thought for a moment that it might have actually worked. The sun hurt my sensitive eyes as it burst through the window in front of me, but it wasn’t until I tried to gulp air down my parched throat that I knew it must have all been real. I groaned, rolling over only to find myself falling to the ground with a loud swift thud.
Another groan erupted from beneath me as I realized I hadn’t hit the floor, but rather landed on someone who occupied it. I rolled again just as I saw Reid comb his fingers through his hair and glare up at me. “Was that necessary?” He asked hoarsely.
While I considered my predicament and his question, I saw that I hadn’t rolled off my bed, but instead a rather unfortunate looking leather couch. I decided I really didn’t have an answer to his query, so I merely gave him an apologetic yawn to which he rolled his eyes. “Where am I?” I inquired as he sat up, because I knew for certain that horrible excuse for decorative furniture didn’t belong to me.
“My apartment,” he muttered.
He was up on his feet now, stretching his arms above his head. I looked around the room, which didn’t take long considering it was about the size of my bathroom. I scratched my head while trying to tame the mess of hair across my forehead. “I thought you lived in Frog Hollow with Sera and Abby?”
He sighed, regrettably. “Frog Hollow will always be my home,” he explained. “This is just where I stay when I need space, which is most of the time.”
I stood up, though a little wobbly, and made my way over to the window that was producing all that bright sunshine. As I looked out, I realized that we were overlooking the square. It was a similar view that I had from the upstairs of the bookstore balcony. “We’re above Rooster’s Diner,” he explained noticing my surprise. “Cari gives me a good deal, seeing as there really isn’t much to the place.”
I turned to see him walk into the kitchen adjacent to the living room and begin starting a cup of coffee. My eyes instantly lit up. “I don’t think so,” he said opening his fridge. He pulled out a Gatorade and then a bottle of Advil from the cabinet. “You’ll be enjoying this for breakfast,” he said sliding them across the counter toward me.
I frowned at him, although my mouth was already watering for the Gatorade. “So how did we end up here?” I asked, grabbing the bottle as if it were a piece of gold at the end of my hangover rainbow.
“You passed out.” He said with a shrug. “My place was the closet spot to let you sleep it off.”
I nodded, but I could already feel myself wincing as I prepared to ask my next question. “What else happened after I blacked out?”
Reid leaned over on the counter watching as his coffee began to run down into the container. “Nothing,” he yawned. “A vamp is no match for two wolves, especially when they’ve got Willa and Abby for back up.”
“So, he just left?” I asked.
“With encouragement,” he added with a smile, but then it faded. “I hope you understand now what I’ve been trying to tell you all along. Julien is dangerous. Did you see the way he reacted to your dismissal of him? Imagine what he’d do if he tasted your blood?”
My stomach tightened as my hand clenched into a fist behind my back. Reid still didn’t know, which meant Abby and Zeke had kept my secret. No wonder he was still being nice to me. I managed to give a slight nod, but buried my hands in my pockets.
“Good.” He sighed with relief. “But just in case Julien didn’t learn his lesson, Zeke has offered to spend the day with you at the bookstore. I thought you might need the help anyway, and he really doesn’t have anything else better to do.”
I nodded again, a little miffed that he thought I needed a baby sitter, but at least it was Zeke. I figured it was just Zeke’s excuse to get to talk to me again about everything. I began to wonder what I would say to him, because honestly I had no idea how I felt about any of this. I hadn’t expected to confront Julien so soon, let alone with an audience and a loose tongue. Reid took my thoughtful silence as fear and crossed the room to give me a warm embrace. “Don’t be scared,” he said. “We’ll protect you.”
I sighed into his shoulder knowing it was true, but unsure if it was necessary. Julien’s face played over and over again in my mind, and I knew it would plague me until I found out the truth. There would only be one way to convince my family and myself of Julien’s motives, and that was to find out my mother’s true murderer. I instantly remembered the spell Julien had taught me, and how I needed to cast it at all the places my mother’s spirit might choose to dwell. My first thought was the bookstore, and I glanced up at the clock. I was expected to open in less than two hours, and I would still have to make a trip to the graveyard for dirt, which meant I had little time to spare.
“Mind taking that coffee to go?” I asked him, smiling as innocently as possible. “I would really love a shower before work.”
He smiled back rubbing his hand over my shoulder. “Sure thing, Em.” He turned to run back into the kitchen and grab a to-go mug, but I continued to stand in the living room, stunned.
“Did you just call me, Em?” I asked, confused.
He concentrated as he poured his coffee. “Is that alright?” He asked. “Do you not like it?”
“No, it’s fine,” I stuttered. “I just didn’t realize we were on a nickname basis.”
He looked up, cocking his head to the side. “Well,” he considered. “You did pass out on my couch, and I did make you breakfast.” He pointed at the Gatorade in my hand and smiled.
He was right; we hadn’t yelled at each other for a full twenty-four hours. We’d definitely taken a step up in our relationship, almost to the point of friendship. “Do I get to call you Re Re?” I asked, laughing.
“No.” He said pointedly.
“Oh, come on!” I said as he grabbed his coffee and headed toward the door. “It’s only fair.”
“No.” He said again holding the door open for me.
“How about just Re, then?” I asked teasingly.
He rolled his eyes as I walked out. “No.” He groaned. “Just forget I mentioned it.”
He followed me hastily down the stairs, and I continued throwing names at him. “Or maybe we could do like an animal nickname. You know, Bear, Goose, or Ducky?”
He started to walk faster once we made it outside, so I ran after him. “Or we could base it off your mood, as if you were one of the seven Dwarfs. Grumpy, Grouchy…”
“Daniels!” He warned, spinning toward me just as we reached his truck.
“What is it, Thomas?” I barked back innocently, replicating his angered posture. He stepped forward, our toes meeting as he loomed over me; and I felt electricity flash between us. It wasn’t butterflies, or the so-called fireworks people sometimes describe, but real, genuine electricity. It sent us both stumbling back, and I landed hard against the side of his truck. My hand reflexively touched my hair to make sure it wasn’t standing at attention on top of my head. We both gawked at each other, but I couldn’t help but smile as I started to laugh. “Sparky it is then,” I chuckled, shaking my head.
He stared blankly at me for a few seconds, obviously taken aback by what had just happened. When he finally spoke, he was back to his usual moody self. “Just get in the damn truck.” He groaned, pushing his messy hair out of his face with a frown.
I decided to take the light hearted route and continued to grin at him. “Sure thing, Sparky,” I winked. I could have sworn I saw him smile before stomping away around the truck.