Motion (Page 36)

Offering just my profile, I shrugged noncommittally, because I wasn’t tired enough to sleep and I didn’t want to lie to him anymore, not even a white lie. Placing my hand on the banister, a twisting in my stomach made me pause just for a moment as I prepared to launch myself up the first flight.

But before I could climb the first step, he covered my hand, stopping me. A warm, electric current traveled up my arm, weaving itself into my bloodstream and brain. I glanced at his hand on top of mine, and the mutinous whispers returned. Another something terrible had happened: I officially liked it when Abram touched me.

Meanwhile, he hesitated for the span of a breath, and then stepped close. So close, I felt his chest against my back, his thighs against my backside. Abram pulled my hair to the side and the fall of hot breath against my neck caused the most potent and delectable involuntary shiver of my life.

Holy hadron collider.

I was a solution, he was a solute, and total saturation was on my mind.

“Care for company?” he whispered before I’d recovered, his lips just barely against the shell of my ear.

Holy hadron collider, indeed.

The fragrance of him invaded my good sense and for a moment I lost my breath. My breasts swelled, heavy and needy and hot, my nipples tightening into little beads, pressing against the lace bra. I felt the silk of the shirt everywhere it met my skin. He was close, so close, touching, right there and my eyelids fluttered under the weight of such heavenly sensory overload.

And yet, even under attack, my good sense held firm, buffered by a grim sense of certainty: I didn’t believe Gabby, that Abram would be fine with a fling. I didn’t. He liked me. This was as real for him as it was for me. What was happening between us wasn’t something Lisa would be able to just call off when she took my place.

And that meant I would not be able to live with myself if I allowed him to believe anything between us was a possibility. That would be the same as leading him on, as using him.

My foolish heart, however, thought his idea was great. In fact, it had decided to hatch an escape plan and was currently attempting to beat itself out of my chest. Oh please oh please oh please say yes!

I cleared my throat, concentrating on the grim resolve. “Company?” The question was just above a whisper, because I couldn’t manage much else. Gravity had seemed to reverse, or become centripetal in nature, pulling me in all directions at once.

“I could read you a bedtime story, from your new book.” Knuckles brushed softly against the skin of my neck, the silk of my shirt, and then down my bare arm, raising goose bumps in their path. “Or I could sing you a song.”

Oh no. Do not want! If Gabby was to be believed, I wouldn’t be able to withstand an Abram talent-assault in addition to the rest of what I knew about him. Usually, musicians held no allure for me. But Abram was breaking the mold on all my usuallys.

Grasping that grim resolve, I slid my hand from beneath his on the banister, folded my arms over my chest (to conceal that situation), and turned to face him.

Swallowing the rocks in my throat, I asked, “Are you flirting with me?”

Two dimples, an unhidden smile given freely, gorgeous brown eyes caressing my face.

This is hard. So hard.

“You have to ask?” he said. Flirtatiously.

Despite the disobedient—and therefore destructive—thrill his nonadmission elicited, I cleared my throat and forced myself to say, “Do you think that’s appropriate?”

He blinked, his grin faltering, but only a little. “Appropriate?”

“Yes.” Crowbarring indignation into my voice I didn’t feel, I narrowed my eyes. “Aren’t you supposed to be the adult here? Ensuring I don’t get into trouble or harm myself? For all intents and purposes, you’re in charge of me, reporting back to my parents about my behavior. They trust you with my well-being. Leo trusts you. Therefore, let me ask you again: do you think flirting with someone you’re in charge of is appropriate?”

Abram flinched back, taking two shuffling steps away as I spoke. At first, his eyebrows lifted, but then they lowered into a severe line over his darkening eyes.

“Are you . . . are you kidding?”

I glared at him, saying nothing, because I didn’t trust myself to speak. This is so hard.

He shook his head, just slightly, as though to clear it, his eyes searching. “Or are you serious?”

“Serious,” I parroted immediately, grasping at the word. Then I swallowed. Because I had to. This is the hardest.

Abram flinched, his lips parting, giving me the impression that a very loud objection was on the tip of his tongue. But then he snapped his mouth shut, staring at me for several seconds, perhaps expecting me to say just kidding! When I continued glaring in silence, he glanced at the ceiling. He then glanced at the wall to his left. His hands came to his hips. He exhaled a light laugh, shaking his head and covering his mouth.

He’d gone back to hiding his smiles, even the bitter ones.

I waited, watching him, feeling . . . horrible. And enormously uneasy. Also, immensely remorseful, wishing I could take the words back, but knowing it was for the best.

By the time his eyes had traveled around the kitchen and returned to mine, they were shuttered, dim, remote, and hit me with a force that felt physical.

“Yes. Absolutely. You’re right.” His tone matched his expression, and the combination made me wonder if my heart had just sustained a serious injury somehow. It would’ve explained why it was suddenly so hard to breathe.

I think it’s hard to breathe because this is hard.

“I, uh, that’s okay.” My voice wavered along with my resolve and I took a step toward him. Apparently, at some point over the last several days, I’d become magnetized to Abram.

Or maybe it’s gravity, he is quite big.

Or maybe it’s one of the four fundamental forces, working on an atomic level: weak, strong, electromagnetic, gravitational.

Or maybe—

But he held up his hand, staying me. “No. It’s not okay. Please accept my apology. I . . .” A flicker of something ignited behind his eyes, a vulnerability that crippled my brain, there and hidden in an instant. He dropped his gaze to the floor, and gave his head another shake before adding quietly, “No excuses. It won’t happen again.”


Problem-Solving Strategies

The potency of my self-doubt and regret was a new experience.

When Abram left me at the bottom of the stairs with a polite departing head nod after my duplicitous speech about the appropriateness of his actions, I felt a large part of myself go with him. It felt like a physical separation, being split into two distinctly different versions of myself—one followed the logical path, and one followed him—and that was nonsensical.

The one that followed him wanted to tackle him to the ground and spill my guts. I almost did.

The rest of me retrieved my dirty cup from earlier in the day and made a new cup of tea, blinking away tears. I was the worst kind of hypocrite, acting like I had all this moral authority. Meanwhile, I was a lying liar of lies, sitting on a throne of lies, eating lie soup and liar cake.

Try as I might to be rational, I couldn’t shake the sense that something was very, very wrong with me. This sense was only heightened by the near constant ache in my stomach and heart, both of which felt like an overreaction.

I never overreacted. Underreaction was where I lived my life.

You cannot deny he was behaving inappropriately, given what he knows to be true of the situation, a shrill little voice reminded me, one that sounded suspiciously like Dr. Steward.

Unable to navigate this strange labyrinth of emotional upheaval, I spotted the bag from the bookstore on the counter, grabbed my new book, left my new cup of tea in the sink, and went upstairs to play the violin. Unpacking it, I tried to play. I couldn’t play. My fingers weren’t working right. Setting the instrument on the desk, I picked up my new book. I set the book down. I didn’t want to read.

Making a split decision, I changed into the bikini from the other day. I then marched down to the back door, intent on the pool—my hairdo and Gabby and George-the-stylist be damned.

But before I opened the back door, I spotted movement. It was now dark outside, but the pool light illuminated the water. Abram was swimming laps. I didn’t press my face against the glass, but I did watch him without meaning to, tracking him, unable to look away, admiring how he paired gracefulness and power. He wasn’t a perfect swimmer, his technique could use some help, but he was strong and fast and clearly determined to swim forever.

I must’ve watched him for a half hour, probably longer. My feet grew tired of standing in the same place, necessitating that I shift my weight and flex my calves. Still, he swam. It wasn’t until he stopped and straightened, breathing hard and wiping away excess water with his hands, his eyes seeming to move directly to the window where I stood, that I tore my gaze away and stepped back.

Spooked—because clearly I was still overreacting—I sprinted to the back stairs. But then, a thought occurred to me. Pivoting, I jogged to the pantry, grabbed my backpack, and hastily climbed to the second floor, running into Lisa’s room after a short moment of hesitation, closing and locking the door.


I had my laptop and research notes. Yes. Yes, yes, yes!