Eliza is out on a first date, when the lights go out and someone other than the man she’s out with takes advantage of the dark to kiss her more passionately than she’s ever been kissed before.
There was a spring to Eliza’s step as she entered her dorm room. If nothing else, she had a date with a hot guy on Saturday.
“Well?” Krista said in lieu of a greeting.
“You first.” Eliza dropped her armful of books onto her desk, sat on her bed, and began undoing the laces of one sandal.
Krista was face-down on her own twin bed, head hanging over the edge. She carefully placed her book mark all the way to the spine of the book she’d been reading, and closed it. “Me first what?” She rolled to her side, slid a bit higher up the bed, and rested her cheek on her palm.
“Playing dumb doesn’t suit you.” Eliza let her sandal drop to the floor, grabbed a pillow from behind her, and threw it at her friend’s head. “You suck.”
“Me suck what?”
They both dissolved in giggles.
Eliza caught her breath first. “Do I have a date for Friday?” she asked, fumbling with her second sandal.
“Yes ma’am.” Krista gave a mock salute. “Bill was a little too eager to go out with you. He might be the one.” She ducked her head, but not before Eliza saw a shadow cross her eyes. When Krista looked up again, she was smiling. It seemed the teensiest bit forced.
“What’s wrong, hon?”
Krista shook her head. “Nothing. Talking to Bill was just weird, you know? It never used to be weird. When I stayed here for college, I thought things would stay the same with him. I mean, we practically grew up together. But he’s been hanging out with your stupid ex, and today reminded me we’re not best friends anymore.”
Eliza went to her and wrapped an arm around her shoulders. “I’m sorry, hon. I don’t have to go out with him.” He was too goofy to be Prince Charming, but even if he was the one, Eliza lived by the sisters-before-misters motto.
“No, you should go. If the two of you get together, maybe he’ll ditch those creeps and revert to the Billy I grew up with.”
“And things don’t work out between me and him, I can still use the date to try and talk some sense into him.”
“Sounds good.” Krista’s smile was more genuine this time. “So do you have a date for Saturday?”
“Uh huh.” Eliza grabbed a pair of tracksuit pants and a T-shirt from her closet and walked to the bathroom.
“Wait. With whom?” Krista ran after her, but Eliza slammed the bathroom door in her face. “With whom?” Krista banged her open palm repeatedly on the wooden surface.
“I can’t hear you.” She totally could.
“Are you gonna make me wait?”
“Yup. And I want to shower, too.”
“I’ll wait.” A thump came from the other side of the door. Could have been Krista’s head.
Krista stood right outside the bathroom when Eliza opened the door. Her arms were crossed over her chest, and one eyebrow aimed for the sky. “Tell me, or you’re staying in there forever.”
Eliza grinned. “Cal.”
“Which one’s that?” Krista stepped aside.
Eliza leaned against the doorway. “Oh, you know. Tall, blond, and dreamy.”
“Blue eyes? Sort of buff?”
“Sort of buff?” Eliza snorted. “Guy’s built like a tank.”
“I’m guessing we like?”
“Definitely.” She grimaced. “But if it wasn’t him, going out with him pretty much kills my chances with his BFFs.”
Krista shrugged. “You didn’t ask him out, did you?”
“No. I flirted with all three, and he was the one who went for it.”
“There you go, then. If one his friends had the hots for you, he’d have made a move.”
And if he didn’t, he wasn’t the guy for Eliza anyway. She’d had enough of bending over backwards for a man. Trying to figure out the identity of her secret kisser was to sate her curiosity. She wouldn’t beg him to go out with her.
“I like the way you think,” she told Krista. “Does your brilliant brain want to join me for lunch? I was too busy playing detective to eat.”
“Shit.” They should have eaten at the cafeteria.
Krista stopped next to Eliza. “What? Did you forget something? I have money.”
“Nate.” He sat facing the entrance. Was there a chance he didn’t see them? She’d made her peace with the fact that earth would probably never swallow the jackass whole, but did he have to show up everywhere she went? Did God listen to her prayers—like—ever?
“Shit,” Krista said. “We can go somewhere else.”
Eliza considered it, but she wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of seeing her flee. “We’re staying.”
She should have checked the room more carefully before making her mind up. The server led them to the only unoccupied table. The one right next to Nate’s.
“We can still go,” Krista whispered.
Nate still hadn’t noticed them. He was too absorbed, his focus on a paperback he held in his left hand, as he popped fries in his mouth with the other. His face was relaxed, his full lips not hardened by that cruel smirk he reserved for Eliza. It was hard to remember she hated him, when he looked like this.
Eliza pulled back her chair, and winced when its legs screeched against the floor. When he didn’t raise his gaze from whatever he was reading, her determination was steeled. “I feel like omelet.” She felt like running.
She barely tasted her lunch. She kept glancing at Nate, her heart skipping a beat with every page he turned. Now he’d look up and see her and say something so horrible, she’d have to move to a new town.
But he kept reading, even when the server brought his dessert, and Eliza was mesmerized by how he devoured spoonful after spoonful of chocolate.
“You were hungry, huh?” Krista said.
Eliza looked at her plate. The omelet had vanished. “I guess so.” Her forced chuckle turned into a groan when she caught a glimpse of Nate standing.
Now. Now he’d see her.
She kept her gaze to Krista, all too aware of Nate rounding his table toward her.
He brushed her ponytail, and her heart leapt in her mouth.
“Sorry,” he said, too close to her ear. “By the way”—this was it; now he’d go super-nasty at her—“you should really try the chocolate soufflé. Exquisite.”
Eliza’s shock was reflected on Krista’s face. “What was that? Was he… polite? Had he seen us all along?”
“I don’t know.” He probably had. His book had to be amazing, to keep him from messing with her. She could drive herself crazy with speculation, or she could enjoy her dessert now Nate was gone. And chocolate soufflé didn’t sound half bad.
Unless he’d managed to somehow poison it.