Bright rays of sunshine danced across my closed eyelids. It was nice, warm, inviting. It was the kind of sunshine you'd feel closer to midday, not early morning. I cracked my eyes open and scanned the room; indeed, the white light coming in was not from the early morning sun. Shit, it had to be late. I fumbled for my phone to check the time.
"12:30? That can’t be right," I wondered out loud while looking around my room. The “Are you still watching?” screen was still displayed on the TV from my Netflix binge the night before, and the big pile of clothes on the floor that I kept promising myself I’d go through was all lit up with the afternoon glow. Wow, I had really slept in past noon. I made a sound that came out like a scoff, or a disappointed laugh and laid back down. Screw this day and everyone in it.
I was pulling one of my large pillows over my face when I realized that my mother should have woken me up. Panic surged through me. She’d never let me sleep in this late. Cancer or not, she would always come into my room and start ‘cleaning’ if I slept past 9:30. I jumped up from the ball of blankets that I was tangled under and made my way into the hallway. I began charging towards the other side of the house, where my mom slept.
“Mom?!” I yelled through the house, hoping to hear her tender voice soothe my worry. I hated this; it felt like I just woke up in the Twilight Zone.
Shit, what if something happened? What if I could have helped her? My throat was starting to close as I thought about what could have happened to her or why she hadn't woken me, and why I’d overslept, to begin with. I winced as I remembered last night's disaster. I couldn't sleep. I tried, trust me. It wasn't like I wanted that pathetic mess running like a bad TV marathon in my head.
I was desperate to settle my mind, so I turned on The Office and drowned my sorrows in the hilarious life of Michael Scott while I ate dry Captain Crunch from the box. Sleep must have claimed me at some point because I was just now waking up and it was already noon. Freaking noon! I never had in my life slept in this long, not even after a game. The panic and concern for why my mother didn't wake me surged back with full force and filtered into every hard-footed stomp I made towards the living room.
"Mom?" There was still no answer, but then I heard my mother giggle. I knew it was her because she did a little snort at the end. Then I heard a male laugh, not a giggle, but a deep tenor laugh, husky if you will. It made my arms erupt with goose bumps, like my body was warning me to get the hell out of there. I slowed my pace and started creeping down the hall while moving my head carefully around the corner until I could see.
The only problem was, once I was able to see, I realized too late that whoever the laughing stranger was would be able to see me as well. My mom was looking at me like I was a deranged lunatic, and my brain slowed down, and heart stopped as I took in the other face. Jimmy the Jerk couldn't actually be sitting in my living room. Except that he was. Jimmy stopped talking to my mother and slowly stood, his blue jeans straightened, and his dark green shirt pulled tight against his chest with the movement. That color shirt matches his eyes.
Shit, I shouldn’t notice that.
All those tattoos were hidden by the blue zip-up sweatshirt he wore. Jimmy the Fist. I thought of what I heard last night at the bar and wondered how accurate the rumors about him were. My eyes lingered on the barely visible black scrawl that climbed up his neck. I wonder what it says? I hated that I noticed that damn tattoo again, or how he looked. I hated even more that I liked how he looked.
My mother cleared her throat while staring daggers at me. Her eyes squinted, and her lips thinned into a line. I followed her angry gaze and realized it was zoned in on my chest. I knew that look; it was the same look she gave me growing up when I wanted to wear ripped jeans to church or a spaghetti-strapped tank. I quickly looked down at what had offended her and saw that I was wearing a neon green tank top with the letters 'STD' printed on the front. A hilarious college joke from the student tech department, which at the moment wasn't funny, and I suppose neither was the fact that I had charged down the hallway in boy shorts underwear.
I instinctively pulled the hem of my tank down to cover my legs, but it caused the scoop neck of the tank to dip further. My mother's eyes jumped to my face then my boobs. Shit, I wasn't even wearing a bra. This was a nightmare. I glanced at Jimmy the Jerk for a second to see if maybe he was looking away or doing anything to help me through this awkward moment, but when I caught his gaze, his green eyes were boring into mine. He was standing with his hands in his pockets, feet spread apart, and his jaw locked in place. I didn’t look away; I wanted to challenge him, see how long he’d watch me. I quirked my brow as his stare roamed down the length of my body. Take it all in buddy; you’ll never see this train wreck again.
I withheld the urge to pull a Vanna White and move my hand vertically along my half-naked body, as if it were some prize. My mom moved to stand, then approached me slowly.
“Ramsey, you're finally awake.”
I gave her a tight-lipped smile while I moved my arms to my chest, I had given up on the hemline. I refused to think about my hair, or face, or how either of them currently looked. My mother gently touched my arm as she looked back towards Jimmy. I noticed that his blond hair was neatly combed to the side, and as much as I didn't want to admit it, he looked good—really good. I studied the way his long hair on top fell across his forehead. I wanted to push it off his face and run my fingers through it. What the hell? I hated him. I needed to remember that I hated this man. But even villains can have great hair.
Speaking of villains, I could feel my face finally catch up to the shame of being seen like this by my new mortal enemy. His stare was still cold, calculated, and frustrating. He wasn't looking away from me or moving to leave. I could only imagine the things he thought of me now. No, I didn't give a shit what he thought of me. I just wanted him gone, both out of my house and out of my life. The anger that was so dominant from the night before started to surface again.
“What are you doing here?” I seethed, trying so hard to keep my anger in check. I wanted to scream at him, shout, possibly throw something. Whatever it took to get through his stupid, beautiful head that I didn’t want him here. His face paled and he shifted on his feet. He seemed like he was struggling for a response.
Finally, he managed to get out, “I came here to talk to you. Could we go somewhere, uh, private, like the kitchen or something?”
I liked that he was nervous and stammering like an idiot. my Mom took that as her cue and yawned, then gently closed the space between us and kissed my cheek.
“It’s time for my afternoon nap, sweetie.” Then she looked at Jimmy and smiled bigger than I have ever seen her smile. Traitor. “Jimmy, it was nice to meet you. I look forward to seeing you again.”
He smiled back at her and nodded. “Same here, Ms. Carla, thank you for the iced tea.”
So, it was possible for him to be nice. Who knew?
Jimmy's gaze cut back at mine, and the smile he gave my mom fell away from his lips. He watched me with a measured reluctance, like he was waiting for me to make my move. I wouldn't give him the satisfaction. My arms were still crossed, and my spine was straight as an arrow. I refused to look weak in front of him. Messy, crazy, and possibly like a hoarder, but not weak. He looked down at the carpet, pulled his hands from his pockets, and placed them on his hips like he was thinking. “Ramsey, look, I'm…”
I put my hand up to stop him before my brain could even catch up. Fight or flight, I was going to fight. I was already on edge, and since I refused to give him the chance to explain, or the benefit of the doubt, I stopped him from speaking. He would get nothing from me, not even the courtesy of me hearing him out.
“Jimmy, let me stop you there. I don’t know why you came to my house, why you didn’t take the fact that I was asleep as a cue to not come inside, and to leave me the hell alone. But I don’t want you here, and I don’t want to talk to you, so please leave.”
He looked shocked, his eyes wide and his lips parted. He had one hand on his hip, and the other out, like he was waiting for a low five or just still frozen from trying to talk. Then he began to rub his jaw. He coughed before he replied, “Look, I know I have been a bit of a jerk, but just give me a chance to explain.”
My arms grew tight as I pulled them in closer to my chest, like armor. “No thanks, Jimmy, I don’t need to hear you explain. Your actions have spoken louder than any word you could possibly utter today. I won’t go back to Theo’s, and I won’t go back to your bar. As far as I am concerned, our business dealings are done. We can both act like we never met each other, I don’t want to see you again after this. If you see me in the store, go the other way, don’t say hi to me, just leave me alone."
I paused, looking down, and gathered what strength I had left to kick the man out. I had never been this mean or forceful with another human being before, so it all felt like a rush. I lifted my head and stared straight through him as I said, "Please let yourself out.”
Amazon US - http://a.co/8YJgCEC
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Amazon UK - http://amzn.eu/2jARWmY
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**Will be available in KU.