Home > Where the Road Takes Me(3)

Where the Road Takes Me(3)
Author: Jay McLean

   She laughed. Low and slow. “I don’t know my number.”

   I came to a stop. “You don’t know your own number?” Who doesn’t know their own number? I started moving again, adding, “How do you give guys your number?”

   She turned around abruptly, causing me to run into her for the second time. I grabbed her elbows to keep her upright. She straightened, pulling her hair away from her face. Then she raised her eyes. They were huge, almost as huge as the breaths she was inhaling. Looking away, she shrugged. “I don’t.”

   “What do you mean, you don’t?”

   She exhaled loudly and raised her eyebrows in warning.

   “Right.” I nodded. “No getting-to-know-each-other stuff.”


   “So,” I said, leaning against my car.

   She replaced Hannah’s flip-flops with her now recovered heels. “So?”

   I hesitated a moment before offering, “I should probably give you a ride home.”

   She giggled. It was genuine, not like the annoying fake ones that spilled out of Hannah. Why did I keep comparing her to Hannah? “You probably should,” she agreed, looking around the parking lot, “but you’re not going to. I’m going to hoof it. Thank you so much, Blake, for everything. Saving me and all.”

   “What?” I straightened, and for some reason, a protectiveness I’ve never felt before kicked in. “You can’t walk by yourself at this time of night.” It came out louder than I’d expected. “It’s not safe. I won’t let you.” I shook my head frantically.

   She smirked. She was amused. Great.

   “I mean it, Abby. I’m not just going to let you walk around on your own.”

   Her laugh cut me off, echoing through the trees around us. “Okay, okay,” she soothed, settling her palm flush against my chest. My shoulders sagged in relief. I hadn’t realized how tense I’d been. She dropped her hand fast. Too fast. “Sorry,” she mumbled, as if I would have a problem with her touching me. She pulled out her phone. The light from it illuminated her face as she ran her tongue across her top lip.

   For a second, I forgot to breathe.

   She was cute. Maybe even hot.

   “You okay?”

   “Huh?” Fuck. I was staring.

   “You zoned out.”

   “Oh.” I faked. “Yeah, I’m . . . nothing. Yeah . . . nothing.” I was going to tell her that I was just tired, but it would have been a lie.

   She smiled again, that same amused smile from earlier. “You want to go for a walk? There’s a restaurant open that serves bottomless coffee and all-day breakfast.”

   On cue, my stomach growled.

   She giggled. “I’ll take that as a yes.”


   It had been a while since I’d felt nervous in someone else’s presence. But Abby, she made me nervous. I opened and closed my mouth at least three times, but each time, no words formed. Mustering my courage, I inhaled and began, “So I know that you—” But I stopped when I realized she was no longer walking next to me. I turned back to find her bent over in someone’s front yard, her face in a rose bush. “What are you doing?” I whispered.

   She shrugged and then straightened. “Stopping to smell the roses.” She said it with such nonchalance, as though it was normal for someone to just stop and smell the roses. Once she’d made her way back to me, she asked, “What were you saying?”

   What was I saying? “Just that—”

   She placed her hand in the crook of my elbow and kept it there. I looked down at her, but she, too, was looking down. She didn’t say a word, and for a moment, neither could I. Then I exhaled and tried to relax. She was closer now, closer than I normally let anyone be. Even Hannah. “You said you didn’t want to do the whole get-to-know-you thing—and that’s fine—but I kind of want to get to know you a little.”

   “Yeah?” she asked. “Why?”

   Why? What kind of question was that? “I don’t know. You intrigue me.”

   “I intrigue you?”

   Ignoring her question, I said, “How about you tell me five random things about you?” The streetlights were closer together now, making it easier for me to see her. We’d been walking only about ten minutes before we’d hit a strip of stores.

   She yanked on my arm. “We’re here.”

   I looked around. Nothing.

   She laughed. Then she opened a black door, hidden in an alcove between two stores. Not letting go of my arm once we got inside, she led me through the darkness, down a set of stairs, to a brightly lit basement room, where I was surprised to find myself in what must have been the world’s most secret restaurant. Only then did she release her hold on me. As she walked ahead, my hand moved on its own to the small of her back. I had no idea why or how it happened, but if it surprised her, she didn’t react. She slid into one side of the booth while I stood there like an idiot, deciding what to do. Her lips spread into a slight smile as she moved across, making room for me.

   It was a silent invitation. One that I hadn’t realized I wanted. As I sat down next to her, she said, “I come here often. That’s one.”

   My brows furrowed. “One what?”

   “You asked for five random things.” Raising her eyebrows, she picked up a menu and handed it to me. “Two—I could eat breakfast food all day.”

   I sighed. These weren’t really the things I had had in mind, but I let her continue.

   “Three, I—”

   Then a voice from above me interrupted. “Hey. You’re here late.”

   My eyes snapped up.

   He looked older than us by a few years. He wore your standard apron, but that wasn’t what stood out. He was scruffy, unshaven, and had dark circles around his eyes, almost as if he hadn’t slept for days. He blinked a few times and then rubbed them with the palms of his hands. “Everything okay?” he asked her.

   I turned to face her.

   “I’m fine,” she said, voice clipped. “I didn’t think you’d be on tonight.” She cast her gaze downwards at the menu in front of her. But it was a tactic, a diversion from not having to look at that guy.

   “Are you sure?” he asked again.

   Her eyes drifted shut. Her jaw clenched. I leaned in closer. “You want to get out of here?”

   “Who are you?” the waiter cut in before she could speak.

   Then that protectiveness from earlier kicked in. I turned to him, my shoulders rigid and ready. I began to stand, but her arm curled around mine. “Clayton,” she said quietly. “I’m fine. I promise. I’ll have the usual. He’ll have the same. And two for them.” She motioned toward two homeless people sitting in a corner booth on the opposite end of the room.

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