I couldn’t imagine a good outcome to trying to explain to my mother that I was now dating my driving instructor who was also in grad school, let alone a vampire. So I decided to skip swimming and just explain myself later. She worried too much about me already. I stared out the window, waiting. Winter was solidly in possession of the land now, a thick blanket of snow covering the brown earth that wouldn’t leave for another several months. But the tilting of the earth granted Edmond new freedom as the sun coursed the sky lower and lower each day. I’d never have seen in him the summer, but now…
My heart thrilled as he pulled into view and I slung my backpack over my shoulder, darting out into the cold. I pulled the door open and clambered inside, smiling over at him. “Hey.”
He smiled back, still seeming wary with the situation, but happy to see me all the same. It was good to see something in his eyes other than frustration and self-loathing.
I reached over and took his hand, beginning to get accustomed to its chill. “So where are we going?”
“I don’t know yet,” he said, giving my fingers a brief squeeze. “Somewhere private would be best.”
I arched an eyebrow playfully. “Why?”
He grinned and pulled away from the school parking lot. “It’s not generally considered very professional to date your students.” He glanced over at me. “Even if they are beautiful.”
I ducked my head and blushed. So we were dating, then. It wasn’t just in my head. “We could check out one of the conference rooms at the library.”
He considered. “I have an idea.” We drove in peaceful silence for a few moments, watching the little town pass by our windows, and pulled up to a railroad crossing. Immediately my mind started rattling off all it knew about the crossings. Never stop on a crossing. Never drive around the gates. Never shift gears on a crossing. Always stop when a train is close. It was amazing how much more I already knew from reading through the book, and I had started going through a second time to solidify the knowledge.
“Do you ever break traffic laws?” I asked idly, glancing back at him as he entered the highway.
He hung in the acceleration lane, getting up to speed. “Frequently.”
“I speed like a madman.”
“No way,” I laughed, watching him merge seamlessly into the traffic stream. “I’ve never seen you go above the speed limit.” He shrugged and my grin widened. “You just never struck me as the ‘speed limits were made to be broken’ kind of guy. More like the ‘you’re not required to go maximum speed limit, high speed causes tire wear and poor gas mileage’ kind of guy.”
He shot me a quick smile. “I’m glad to hear you’ve been reading your Driver’s Manual.”
Flicking on his blinker, he chuckled and glanced in his mirrors and then over his shoulder at his blind spot before sliding into the other lane to pass. He explained quietly, “I’m much more careful with you in the car. You’re a lot more fragile.”
I watched him quietly for a moment, and then asked, “Why do you teach at the driving school?”
He shrugged. “Gotta pay for gas and I can set my own hours.”
“But you could do anything.”
“I like to drive, and it’s nice to be around people my own age. Sort of.”
“You could work at a fast food joint.”
His face twisted in a grimace. “Gramercy, but I think I’d rather lose the car.”
I laughed. “Hey, what’s your number?”
“You have a cell phone, don’t you? What if I want to get a hold of you?”
He fished in his pocket and pulled out a sleek little smart phone, handing it over without so much as a sideways glance.
“Oo, such a trusting soul.”
“That’s fine talk, coming from you.”
“I could change the language to Mandarin. Then what would you do?” I punched my number into his phone and my own buzzed in my pocket a few seconds later. “I’m putting you on speed dial.”
“I feel wonderfully special,” he drawled, leaning against the window.
I laughed. “Do you have any good games on this thing?”
“You don’t play them?”
“Don’t you have any hobbies? Besides driving?”
“I play cello. I used to go horseback riding, but they get pretty skittish around me these days. I still like to watch the races, though. Maybe driving is really just an extension of that.” He eased off the highway, signaling early and slowing down along the off ramp. We drove through the town, passing the old K-Mart parking lot and eventually pulling onto campus.
A smile lit my face and I looked over at him quizzically.
He chuckled. “Thought you might want to see my lab. Then you might believe I’m really a grad student.”
I rolled my eyes, still grinning. “I believe you now. There was a lot you left out when you first told me.”
We pulled up behind a sleek gray and glass building and he led me inside, up through a maze of offices and classrooms and to the labs lining the top floors. We passed down a long corridor and he held my hand the entire length, unashamed of me.
A black plaque had been affixed to the door, with a list of names in white. Kilner, E. was the third one down. A little handwritten sign was taped beneath it. No food or drinks please. I considered making a joke about him not being allowed to take me inside, but decided he wouldn’t think it was very funny. He pushed the heavy door open and led me into a broad room, white walls with black counter tops littered with esoteric vials and fluids. A short, fat man with a patchy beard was working against the far wall, staring down at a little tray. Edmond called, “Hey, Tim!” Still holding my hand, he started toward him.
He looked up. “Edmond. Not your usual hour.” He noticed me and blinked in surprise as his eyes dropped to our clasped hands. “Who’s this?”
“This is Ella,” he said, smiling down at me. “My girlfriend.”
He stood, eagerly peeling off a pair of blue gloves. He came toward us extending a hand. “Wow, Ella. I had no idea he had a personal life.”
I laughed as I shook his hand.
He grinned over at Edmond and said, “I wondered where you were all the time these days. Normally, you’re here all night every night, and most of the day, too.” He looked back to me. “Are you a student?”
I glanced over at Edmond, not sure what he wanted me to say. I was fairly certain he didn’t want his coworkers knowing he was dating a high schooler, though, so I answered vaguely, “I’ll be graduating this spring. Just general studies, real baseline stuff. I’ll probably keep going, though, in the fall.”
He nodded. “Excellent.”
“What are you studying?”
He laughed, looking over at Edmond. “Immortality! Or didn’t he tell you?”
“I had to goad it out of him.”
Edmond scoffed. “You did not.”
“Cagey thing,” Tim agreed, nodding sagely. “I didn’t know his first name until we published something and he had to tell me.”
“That’s a lie!” Edmond insisted, laughing. He grabbed my shoulders and steered me toward a back door. “Don’t you have work to be doing?”
“Bye, Ella!” he laughed, waving as I was ushered away. “We should talk sometime. I have fun stories.”
“Edmond has my number!” I called back as the door closed between us. I laughed, looking up at Edmond. “You didn’t tell me you had friends.”
“Shocking, isn’t it?” He swept an arm through the room and said, “These are a few more of my friends. By number, probably the bulk of them, actually.” The far wall was lined with little steel cages, their pink-eyed occupants peeping out at us curiously.
“Aw!” I gushed, stepping closer. “They’re so cute!”
“Don’t get too attached,” he chuckled. I glanced back at him and he elaborated, “They’re lab rats, Ella. If I’m fortunate, maybe three of them will survive another year. If I’m very, very fortunate, we may find one of their grandchildren or great-grandchildren who outlives us all.”
“Even you?” I asked with raised eyebrow.
He stepped closer and slipped his hands around my waist, hugging me from behind. His chin resting on my shoulder, he took a deep breath and sighed, “If only.”
I leaned back against his chest. “I wish you wouldn’t talk like that.”
He squeezed a little tighter, nuzzling closer. “No? How should I talk?”
I giggled, shuddering away. “That tickles.”
He laughed and leaned his head against mine. “You’re so good to me. I’ve… I’ve never let anyone know before. I can hardly believe how accepting you are.”
I twined my arms over his. The cold of his skin didn’t bother me anymore, the strength of his hands didn’t frighten me. The thought of those hands ever hurting me seemed ludicrous. I closed my eyes and murmured happily, “I love you.” Almost immediately, I realized what I had said and stiffened, my eyes snapping back open. I’d said it. The relationship killer, and on what could quite probably be considered our first date. What was I thinking? I shifted uncomfortably, easing away.
His arms held me tight, not letting me escape, and he chuckled. “I think your heart just skipped a beat.” He straightened and gently rested his cheek on the top of my head. “I wish I knew what you were thinking. How many times do I have to tell you not to trust me?”
I turned in his arms, looking up at him. “Warn me all you like. I trust you.” He smiled down at me like I was a miracle and I felt my pulse rising. I stood up on tippy-toes and lifted my face to him. Awkwardness invaded his eyes and he turned away, glancing over at the far wall. I stalled, frozen. Heat suffused my cheeks and I pulled back, sinking in defeat to the flats of my feet.
“I’m sorry. I th-”
“Don’t be. I just need a little time to get used to the idea.”
I nodded, trying not to pout and failing miserably.
“Honestly. You have no idea how long I’ve been alone.” He gently took my chin on his fingertips, tilting my head back. I met his eyes reluctantly, my face still red. “You were worth the wait,” he whispered.
I couldn’t imagine how desperately lonely he must have been, a singular creature for heaven knew how long, never able to share his secret, never able to go for a walk in the sunlight or share a brunch with friends, never able to touch another person with his tellingly cold hands. Never able to trust even himself. I managed a faint smile. “It’s alright, Edmond,” I assured him, even though my gut was fairly sure it wasn’t. My grin widened just slightly and I added, “I bet you never thought you’d be the one scared of me.”
He laughed out loud and tugged me close again, pressing me against his chest. “I love you, Ella. You’re every kind of beautiful there is.”
I rested my head against his sternum and realized that was more than enough. Surrounded by diseased rodents, wrapped in the arms of a consummate predator, I’d never felt so deliriously happy.
“I know, Mom,” I agreed, my phone pressed against my ear. “I’ve just got this really big project coming up and I could really use the extra hour or two at the library.”
“Are you sure, sweetie?” she asked, her voice made tinny and strange through the line. “We hardly see you anymore.”
“I’m sorry. I’ve got a lot going on right now.”
“Are you sure you don’t want me to bring you anything? Don’t you need some dinner?”
“I’ll just grab something on the way to One Way.”
“Are you sure Mr. Kilner doesn’t mind dropping you off afterward?”
“He really doesn’t. He’s really nice, Mom. It’s okay.”
“Okay. I’ll see you tonight, sweetheart. Be safe, okay? I love you.”
“Okay, I love you, too.” I cut the call and looked back up at Edmond. “It’s alright.”
He nodded, glancing away. I knew he was uncomfortable with me lying to my parents about him, but he was even more adamant that they couldn’t know we were dating, at least not until after I had my license and wasn’t his student anymore. Truth be told, I didn’t like it either. It had been more than a week of this and the novelty had worn off; in the end, I just felt bad. It was the one sour note in an otherwise impossibly good week. We started down the icy sidewalk from the library, heading for the parking lot. I hooked my arm through his and leaned against his shoulder.
He smiled briefly and then reached into his pocket, pulling out a copy of the Driver’s Manual. Maybe that was another recurrent sour note. I groaned as he cracked it open and told me, “I want to go over a few things about drinking and driving.”
I buried my face in his sleeve and complained, “Isn’t this a little outside of your jurisdiction?”
He shrugged. “It’s still important.”
“I thought you only had to teach me how to drive. Besides, I don’t drink.”
“You still have to know this.”
“Why? I don’t drink.”
He cleared his throat. “Impaired drivers continue to kill someone every thirty minutes, nearly fifty people a day, and almost 18,000 citizens a year. In the past decade, four times as many Americans died in drunk driving crashes as were killed in the Vietnam War.”
I sighed and released his arm. He didn’t even look at me.
“About ninety-seven percent of Americans see drinking and driving as a threat to themselves and their families.”
“Can I just add that, having been nearly killed by a drunk driver, I already get this?”
“Highway fatalities are one of the reasons Alaska has some pretty tough laws against driving under the influence.” He raised a finger and added, “Remember that ‘drunk’ is a breath alcohol concentration of point-oh-eight or more.” He continued reading, “Before you choose to drive after drinking-”
“I won’t,” I interrupted, pulling the booklet down from before his face. “I promise.”
He met my eyes and whispered, “The average cost of your first DUI is $22,740.”
I stepped in front of him, forcing him to stop. “Edmond, what’s this really about?”
He didn’t answer immediately, staring down at me. He blinked and looked away, swallowing. “I feel… protective of you. You know that.”
“You just… you attract trouble.”
I smiled softly, leaning against him. “You’re not trouble.”
“I am,” he insisted. “I wish you’d realize that.”
“You’re not.” I flipped further through the pages of the booklet still in his hands. “I promise you, I’ll never drink and drive, even after I can buy booze. Happy? Now let’s at least look at something that’s actually applicable.”
“Alright,” he relented, bending the book open. “Do not pass.” He glanced over at me. “Do you know when not to pass? You’ve been reading, right?”
“Yeah. Don’t pass on the right, on a hill or curve where you can’t see, when there’s an oncoming vehicle, at a solid yellow line or over a railroad, bridge, or tunnel.”
He lifted an eyebrow quizzically. “And…?”
I frowned. “And?” I asked, glancing down at the booklet. He laughed and flipped it shut, but not before I caught a glimpse of bright yellow. “School buses. Don’t pass school buses with their lights flashing.”
“Fine,” he grumbled and gave me a grudging peck on the cheek.
My eyes flared wide and I stared stunned. I felt lightheaded, like I’d just been given my first taste of ambrosia. It was intoxicating. “Edmond…” Eager for my next taste, I reached for him, lifting my mouth toward his.
He dropped back out of reach, grinning. “Ah ah ah! You have to earn them.”
I was instantly deflated. “This is dysfunctional.”
“This is a simple reward for a simple task. I’m training you.”
“You’re manipulating me.”
“I could use candy instead. You like candy?”
I scoffed and murmured, “What’s the next question?”
“I’ll show you some pictures. Tell me what they mean.” He blanketed most of the page with his hand and pointed to the top image, a white rectangle with black lettering.
I glanced up at him, wondering if he was insulting me. “That’s a speed limit.” He pointed down to the next one, white letters on a red octagon. “Stop sign. Then yield, do not enter, and… snowmachining?”
He laughed. “Ignore the image itself. What’s the sign mean in general?”
“To watch out for whatever.”
“So a warning sign.”
“Yeah, that’s what I meant,” I insisted. “That’s a… miles sign, to tell you how close you are and where to go.”
“A guide sign.”
I nodded, pointing to the next one. “Detour sign.”
“Construction and Maintenance sign. You’re terrible at this.”
“You’re terrible. That’s a school sign.”
“And a hospital sign.”
“Nope. Service sign. It could be for gas or hotels or camp grounds, stuff like that.”
I sighed, getting frustrated. “I know how to read signs, Edmond.”
“What are all these?” He showed me a whole pages of signs and I slapped the book closed, folding my arms.
“This is ridiculous,” I complained, starting for the car again.
“You have a terrible attention span,” he told me, grinning as he followed.
“Sadist,” I grumbled, drawing a laugh from him. “They’re all pretty darned self explanatory, don’t you think?”
“Alright, then what’s this one?”
I stared at the orange and red triangle, feeling frustrated. “Caution.”
“This is the slow moving vehicle emblem, my dear, fluorescent by day and reflective by night.”
“That’s great,” I sneered, rolling my eyes as I turned away.
“Oh, don’t be sore,” he teased, leaning closer.
I ignored him, walking around to the driver’s side of the car. He climbed into the passenger’s side without comment and tossed me the keys as I sat. I started up the car and turned, backing out like a pro. He watched with a satisfied smile and then warned, “Be careful. The roads are icy today. How can you prevent-”
“Edmond, I swear, if you try to quiz me once more in the next half hour, I will find a way to break your perfect jaw.”
I knew it anyway. I was briefly tempted to take the threat back and let him quiz me. I was fairly certain I could earn myself a kiss. I went through the tips in my mind, checking myself. Be alert to conditions, avoid abrupt speed and direction changes, be aware of freezing and thawing weather, don’t over-correct, practice in a safe area, test suspicious roads carefully, slow down well in advance of stopping point, and don’t lock wheels when using breaks. I thought that was all of them. Was that all of them?
I heard a siren wailing behind me and glanced into my mirror, immediately pulling over to the curb. A police car and an ambulance roared by, red and blue lights flashing. I watched as they hurried down the road together, barreling through cleared intersections as the cars parted like magic before them. I resisted the urge to follow, knowing I had to stay back at least five hundred feet. I pulled out onto the road again, coming back up to speed. Emergency services always seemed busy on days like this.
“Slow down,” he warned and I immediately felt myself slipping. The car swerved to the side and Edmond reached over and braced a hand on my arm. “Ella.”
‘Don’t panic,’ I told myself. I turned the front wheels in the direction of the skid, careful not to overdo it, and gently tapped the brakes. The car immediately skirted back into line and I calmly cleared my throat.
He stared at me. “That was perfect. Now never do it again.”
I laughed. “Well, stop distracting me.”
“I’m just sitting here!”
“We need a paper bag for your face or something.”
He chuckled nervously. “Just be careful.”
We passed a cop car on the side of the road with lights flashing, and I merged over into the lane farthest from it, slowing carefully. We also passed a fire truck and I kept my eyes open for fire hoses across the road, knowing it was illegal to drive over them. But we made it over to One Way without further incident and Edmond climbed out, heading inside to made a note of the time change on our session for the day. As he went through the door, I noticed a woman bundled up in a thick jacket, her face lit dimly red by a burning cigarette. Ms. Jones.
She suffocated the cigarette against the ice on the side of the bench and tossed it in the garbage bin, then sauntered down to me. She smiled a little, a cold, unfriendly twist of the lips, and tapped the window. Uncertain, I rolled it down and said, “Hi, Ms. Jones.”
“Hello, Ella. How’re the lessons going?”
I nodded. “Good.”
“You like Mr. Kilner?”
Alarms instantly went off in my head. “Yeah, he’s great.”
She turned her head and coughed, and the heavy scent of tobacco seeped into the car with me as she stooped close again. “Listen,” she said a little more seriously. “You’re a smart kid, alright? Don’t mess yourself up just for belligerence’s sake, okay?”
“Okay,” I murmured, my eyes downcast.
She leaned in closer, her voice dropping. “And don’t get Mr. Kilner in trouble. He’s too nice a guy to get mixed up with a girl like you.” My eyes went wide and she patted the side of the car, standing. I glanced up at her, her baggy, shadowed eyes still heavy on my face. “Be safe, Ella. The roads are awful slippery today.”
We both looked up as the front door slammed. Ms. Jones waved cheerily at Edmond and he returned the gesture. She stepped back and waved to me as well as I rolled up the window, still watching her cautiously. Edmond got in and said, “Alright, we’re all set.” He paused, looking over at me. “What’s wrong?”
“I’m cold,” I muttered, reaching for the thermostat with trembling fingers.
“You know, that was one of those things that I figured I would never miss, but sometimes-”
“Do you have to turn everything into a lecture about how miserable you are?” I snapped, my hands cupped over the air vents.
He was silent for a moment and then his eyes darted up to the door as Ms. Jones disappeared inside. “Your heart’s racing and you smell like cigarettes. What happened?”
I shook my head. “I don’t even know, really.”
Edmond cruised slowly down the road, passing the various no parking zones marked in red and yellow paint on the curb, now barely visible beneath the ice, and another marked with a sign. I had never bothered to think about why some places were prohibited before, but now I spotted various reasons. One was within fifteen feet of a fire hydrant, another within thirty of a stop sign. We passed a fire station entrance with no parking for twenty feet on either side. We didn’t see them, but I also knew he couldn’t park within twenty feet of a crosswalk or intersection, fifty feet of a railroad crossing, or five hundred feet from a fire truck on a call. We finally came to a free spot. He pulled up along side a car parallel parked beside the road, signaled, and then turned the wheel hard right, backing into the space behind it. He turned the wheel left and edged back close to the second car, then turned them right again and centered the vehicle in the space, careful not to double park. I opened the door and peeked down at the curb, even though I knew he would be within the required twelve inches. There couldn’t have been more than three. “How do you do that?” I asked, mystified.
He laughed, killing the engine and removing the keys. “You’ll get there.”
We both climbed out and headed toward the library, Edmond scooping my hand into his as he caught up. He released it again as we went inside, my teacher once more, and we went into the fray of a safety fair. I even saw a few of the other students at One Way and at my high school, being dragged around by parents or driving instructors between the different displays. Edmond guided me to a display, an eruption of black rubber and we discussed tire blow outs, admiring the nice layout of what to do. Don’t apply breaks. Concentrate on steering. Slow down gradually. Brake softly. Pull completely off pavement. Then we moved on to the next.
“Okay, honestly, how often do cars randomly burst into flames?” I asked, pointing at the picture of a little blue car engulfed in a fireball.
He shrugged. “Often enough that they felt the need to make a display about it.”
I rolled my eyes. “Smother it with whatever’s around, got it. No shortage of snow around here.”
“Or dirt and ditch water in the summer. Fine, moving on.”
I laughed out loud. “Vehicle approaching in your lane?” I read. “What is this, an action movie?”
“Well, there’s brake failure over there,” he said, pointing. “So maybe we are.”
“Sound your horn, brake sharply, and steer for shoulder or ditch. They really felt the need to make a poster about that?”
“I’ll tell you what,” he said, grinning. “If you can find one tip or fact here that I didn’t already know, I won’t ask you any more questions out of the Driver’s Manual. Ever.”
I smirked. “It’s not going to happen, is it?”
“But you’re still going to try, aren’t you?”
I rolled my eyes and stumped toward the brake failure display. Using my best airline attendant voice, I asked, “Mr. Kilner, did you know that, in the event of a brake failure, you should use your parking brake, shift to a lower gear, and rub your tires on the curb?”
He laughed. “Shockingly, I did.”
“And how about this?” I asked, leading him to the next one. “Should you find yourself with a flooded engine, you really ought to press the gas pedal to the floor, but most decidedly should not pump the gas pedal. Run starter steadily, and then let the pedal up when engine starts.” He nodded, feigning enthusiasm. “Ah, but did you know that when your brakes are wet after driving through deep water, you should test them and, should you find they pull to one side or maybe not hold at all, you should dry brakes by driving slowly in low gear and applying brakes lightly?” He laughed again and I pointed to the next one. “Oo, if that accelerator jams? You slap that pedal like a red-headed step child! Then brake and shift to neutral and concentrate on steering. No distractions, now, Mr. Killner.”
“Then hopefully I won’t have you in the car with me.”
“Ah, but look at this,” I said, coming up to a car safety kit spread across a table. “This is all the junk you should have mucking up your trunk on the off chance that anything goes wrong. Flares, flashlight, windshield washer, booted anti-ice wiper blades, snow tires or tire chains, frost scraper and snow brush, tow chain, and an emergency kit, including but not limited to, first aid kit, extra clothing and boots, blankets, sand, shovel, and food. Did you know about all that stuff, Mr. Kilner?”
“And I trust you have it all in your vehicle, Mr. Kilner?” He snorted on laughter; most of it was already installed, and just about everything in the emergency kit would have been completely useless for him. “Not like it’s probably a problem for you, but if I have a headache, dizziness, nausea, and vomiting-”
“Then I should probably get you out of the car immediately because the exhaust may be leaking into the cab, and I should check the exhaust system and make sure there is adequate fresh air circulation.”
“And don’t forget that I might need mouth to mouth,” I added playfully.
“Well, if I keep my car in good repair and don’t run it in a closed garage, then it shouldn’t be an issue.”
“Now you’re just showing off.” Grasping, I asked, “Do you know how to deal with a disabled vehicle?”
“Get off the road if you can, use flashers and flares or good heavens, this is pointless.” I threw my hands up in the air, giving up.
Edmond laughed, stepping out of the way of another exasperated teenager retreating toward the bathroom, her mother hot on her heels. “Believe it or not, the point of this is to make sure you know this stuff. Both for your upcoming test and for your general well being.”
Folding my arms, I said, “Well, I think I’d be a lot more interested if there was a little more instant gratification going on around here. Since we’ve already established that I have a short attention span.”
He leaned closer. “You know at least half the people here. And I know a few myself. Words would probably get around pretty quick if I were to violate the sanctity of the student-teacher relationship here.”
“We could go somewhere else.”
“Not until we go over this stuff. The stuff toward the back of the book almost always gets neglected.”
“But so much of this is just so obvious,” I complained. “I mean, if your right wheel goes off the pavement, then duh, of course you stop feeding gas and maintain a firm grip on steering wheel. Brake lightly and maintain car control? Don’t get back on until you’re not going to smack into another car? Does this really need to be said?”
“It really does. They’re intentionally being exhaustive.”
I turned, my eyes skimming the remaining displays. The safest method for turning around in the city is to drive around the block; watch for no U turn signs. Don’t turn around on the highway if you can’t see at least five hundred feet in each directions. Always look before you back up, but don’t stick your head out the door to see. I pointed, resigned, and said, “A driver of a motor vehicle when traveling on a downgrade may not coast with the gears of the vehicle in neutral, or with the clutch disengaged. That’s the best I’ve got.”
“Sorry, my dear.”
I sighed. “I surrender.”
“That wasn’t the point.” He gestured into the safety fair and said, “We’ve been here for less than fifteen minutes. We’ve only looked at maybe half the displays.”
I felt my cheeks coloring as I said softly, “I had just hoped that I could spend time with you today. When you said we were going to the library, I didn’t think we were going to be at a safety fair with a hundred other people.”
He looked down at me for a moment, torn, and then took my hand and led me out of the fair and into the library itself, dropping my hand as we cleared the crowd. He went straight to the circulation desk and asked, “Are there any conference rooms available?”
She took his card and handed him a key clipped onto a bulky key chain. We walked wordlessly through silent shelves. My heart was thrumming in my chest, a rapid staccato I was sure he could hear. He unlocked the door without comment and held it open for me, and then followed me inside, closing the door after him.
I drew a quick breath and leaned against him, gripping his open jacket. “Kiss me,” I begged.
“No,” he whispered, smiling, teasing me.
I blinked, surprised. “What?”
He lifted his chin. “You still haven’t earned it.” His grin widened and he asked, “When are stops required?”
I froze and then leaned back, my jaw set in anger. “Are you serious?”
“Absolutely serious,” he assured me, drawing me closer. He twined his fingers through my hair, leaning my face back. “When are stops required?”
I thought for a moment, wondering if this could cause lasting psychological damage. “At a stop sign,” I sighed.
His cool lips brushed lightly against my cheek. “That’s one.”
“A red light.”
“Mm, that’s two.” He gently kissed my right temple and I closed my eyes, savoring the feel.
“A, um… red flashing light.”
“Three.” My forehead.
I was floundering. I probably wouldn’t have been able to rattle them off even without the distraction. He started to pull back and I blurted desperately, “For a school bus.”
“Four.” His lips pressed to my second temple and I leaned closer, nestling against his chest. “And…?”
“Railroads. For a train.”
My eye, almost reverently. I thought I might die from happiness. “Go on. Three more.”
Three more? It wasn’t possible. “At, uh…”
He paused, lingering over me, inhaling my scent. His fingertips brushed along my jaw and then gently traced the shape of my lips. And I couldn’t think of a thing beyond his touch.
“This isn’t fair,” I whispered, despairing.
He drew back and sighed, “So close, my dear.”
I latched an arm around his neck, fruitlessly trying to keep him close. “Don’t,” I whined. “You’re so mean.”
He stood back, leaning against the wall. “You missed at yield signs when others are coming-”
“Well, obviously,” I growled, cuddling against his chest.
“- when entering a highway when others are coming-”
“That’s practically the same thing.”
“-and at uncontrolled intersections, when the lights are out.”
He laughed. “You want another chance?”
“No, I want a kiss.”
“You’ll get one,” he promised me. “When you’ve earned it.”
“Ugh, you’re so mean!” I growled, flopping back in one of the seats.
“Poor little darling,” he sighed, entirely unrepentant. He went around the seat behind me and started massaging my shoulders, kneading out the stiffness. I couldn’t help but relax under his hands. My eyes slid closed, my head turning to the side. He swallowed as my hair slid away off my neck, exposing its smooth curve. I hurriedly brushed it back over my shoulder again, not wanting him to think about that, but it was too late. His hands slid from my shoulders and he took the seat beside me. He laid back, resting his head on my knees, and asked, “What are you doing later tonight?”
I hesitated. “Just hanging out at home.”
“You want to go for a drive with me?”
Biting my lip, I answered, “I probably shouldn’t.”
He turned his face aside, nodding slowly.
“I’m not mad at you.”
He glanced up, unconvinced.
“I’m not.” I shrugged, looking away. “I mean, I love hanging out with you all the time, but it’s just getting harder to explain to my parents what I’m doing. They know something’s up and I don’t know what to tell them.” I looked down at him again. “What should I tell them, Edmond? Is it time to come clean?”
He sat up, pivoting the chair to face me. “Maybe not just yet.” He looked at me for a long while, his eyes worried, and then admitted, “Someone’s been looking for me. I just want to be sure you’re safe.”
“An old friend.”
I rolled my eyes. “Okay, so when you say that, do you actually mean an old friend, or do you mean someone who absolutely hates you and has for a long time?”
He chewed his lip, embarrassed, and admitted, “Not an actual friend.”
“What does he want?”
He shrugged. He seemed to know, but just wasn’t telling me for some reason.
“What’s going on, Edmond?”
“I don’t want you to worry.”
“What could possibly make me worry more than knowing that it’s something so horrible you refuse to tell me about it?” He still wouldn’t say and I stood, turning away from him. “So, maybe not the best time to tell my parents, then.”
“I want to tell them,” he assured me, rising behind me. His hands circled my shoulders and he hugged my back against his chest. “I want to do this right. But it’s just not the right time. After I settle a few things, alright? I promise.”