Trish smiles, but in a way that says she doesn’t quite buy that line. “Does this mean you two are—”
“—Friends,” Tanner says emphatically.
It’s almost like an order too, but I need one now, so I’m grateful for his clarity. Grateful for the way he’s steering this conversation to safe shores. “We’re absolutely friends,” I add, then just to show how much we’re buds, I improvise. “So we planned that. As a little surprise. I wanted to show my support for the charities, so Tanner and I arranged that whole thing.” I pat his arm. “Thanks, man.”
He flashes me the friendliest of grins. “Anytime.”
When Trish wraps up, I’ve got a playbook ready of excuses for why I need to hang around here. I need to talk to North. I have to call my mom. My sister’s been texting.
Because I cannot head home with Tanner when I’m feeling this way. I cannot ride the elevator in the building with him when I’m thinking new thoughts.
So when Trish walks away, I cover my own ass by waggling my phone. “Mom’s been blowing up my texts so I need to write back,” I say.
“Tell her I say hi,” Tanner says, then turns on his heel to go.
I can’t stop watching him walk off till he’s well out of sight. That’s changed too—I’m staring at him in a whole new way.
THE SPIN CYCLE
It’s not hard.
Lift your fist and rap on the door. You’ve done it a million times before. You stop by. You make plans. It’s easy.
But should I call him first? a voice in my head asks.
Another voice answers with a question: Do you usually call your friend first?
Ah hell, I’m talking to myself the next morning when I need to be firming up plans for our so-called official date.
This is bad.
I run a hand through my hair and wheel away from Tanner’s door. I head straight to the stairwell, yank open the door and fly down the stairs, all twenty flights, then rush through the lobby.
I need to figure out what’s going on with me and all these new feelings before I face him again. I need to get my head on straight.
Except, where am I going?
Think, man, think.
I should go for a run. Clear my head. Get rid of my sudden dirty thoughts about Tanner so I can slide into the friend zone on our official date, rather than the perving-on-my-buddy zone.
Except I just ran down twenty flights of stairs, and if that didn’t do it, I don’t know that a run is going to help. Maybe a cold shower will.
I spin around to retreat back into my building when a familiar voice calls out. “You do that on the field too? Run away when you see predators?”
And I’m instantly annoyed.
I turn around and face Nate. “Only when I see friends,” I bite out.
This whole mess is his fault.
Nate shoots me a quizzical look as he comes up to me outside the building. “Dude. What’s up with you?”
“No. What’s up with you?” I counter. “Why the fuck did you do that?”
He steps back, holds up his hands, but not in surrender—more like protection. “Whoa. What are you talking about?”
Like he doesn’t know. “Last night,” I hiss out.
“The auction?” he asks, as if I couldn’t possibly be pissed about the auction.
“Yes. You dared me in front of everyone.”
Nate crosses his arms, stares me down. “You didn’t have to take it.”
Like that was an option. “That’s not how dares work and you know it.”
He rolls his eyes. “It’s a dare, Luke. Not a blood oath. You can decline.”
I’m an asshole. I drag a frustrated hand through my hair, but that won’t undo my stupid explosion. “Shit. Sorry, man. I…”
I don’t even know how to finish the sentence, let alone start it.
But it takes Nate all of two seconds to make a decision. He tips his forehead to a nearby coffee shop. “Let’s get you some fuel.”
A few minutes later, we’re inside Doctor Insomnia’s Tea and Coffee Emporium, standing by the counter at the window, watching New York roll by on a Saturday afternoon. “Hunter’s hanging with his sister right now, and I was on my way to meet Tanner to work out before he leaves for the ballpark,” he says, explaining his whereabouts by my building.
But the mention of Tanner sends the spin cycle in me to high again.
“Tanner,” I mutter into my coffee cup.
“Ah,” Nate says immediately. “Tell me more about…Tanner.”
I guess I’m that obvious in my newfound…lust. And it’s not like me to be so frazzled over a guy. “You sure? I don’t want to take away from your gym time with him,” I say sarcastically.
But I do want to take away from his gym time. I need to get my act together.
Nate waves a dismissive hand. “I texted him that I’d be a few minutes late. What’s going on?”