Nocte (Page 19)

Nocte (The Nocte Trilogy #1)(19)
Author: Courtney Cole

Instead, we check out and load our stuff into the trunk and get on our way.

But once we’re on the road, Dare turns to me.

“I could use a drink. Could you?”

I’m giddy that he thinks I’m old enough, but I shake my head. “I’m not twenty-one,” I tell him sheepishly, but honestly, why am I embarrassed?  My age is not my fault.

Dare grins, unaffected.  “I meant a soda, young one.”

“Oh.  Well, I know a coffee house.  And they have sodas.”

“Let it be so, then,” he announces theatrically, like he’s at the helm of the Starship Enterprise.

“You’re not a Trekkie, are you?” I ask, scared that I might finally be finding a fault in this seemingly perfect guy as I turn the car down a narrow city street.  He glances sidelong at me.

“What’s that?”

“You’re from England, not Mars, right?” I demand. “A trekkie.  Someone who watches marathons of star trek and goes to star trek conventions dressed as an Ewok.  You’re not that.  Hopefully.”

“I take offense to that,” he says seriously. “First, an Ewok is from Star Wars, not Star Trek.  Any good trekkie would know that.”

He pauses and I’m appalled because oh-my-gosh there’s no way.  

“And also that you’d think so little of me.  I’m not a trekkie. I’m a die-hard Whovian. I don’t think I can be both.”

Dr. Who, England, of course.  I smile limply and pull into a parking spot.

“I just admitted a guilty pleasure,” he tells me, with his hand on the handle.  “It’s your turn.  What’s one of yours?”

Honestly, I haven’t thought about any pleasures in six weeks.

“Um.” Daydreaming about you.  “I like the Arctic Monkeys.”

He barks out a laugh as I name the British band, and gets out of the car, coming around to open my door while I’m still fiddling with my seat belt.  I look up at him, mesmerized by his manners.

“I’ll try and look past that,” he says solemnly as I brush past him, inhaling his cologne on my way.

He opens the coffee house door for me, too, and we wait in the trendy line for our turn.  He looks at me.

“And this is what I’m afraid the hospital café will turn into,” he says quietly, like he’s sharing a secret.  I nod, completely serious.

“Yeah. I can see that there’s a need to worry.”

I picture the sterile hospital environment, shrouded with the screams from the Psych Ward and giggle.  “Tons of need to worry.”

Dare raises his eyebrows.  “I’m glad we agree.”

We get our sodas, but instead of heading to the car, Dare heads for a table.  “Do you mind if we sit for a minute? I’m sure our food will be fine for a few minutes in the car.”

“Ok.”

I sit across from him and play with my straw, and we stare at each other.  After a minute, he smiles and I decide that his smile might be my new favorite thing.

And then I promptly feel guilty for having a favorite anything.

My mother is dead and I killed her.  I’m not allowed to enjoy things anymore.

I stare at him as flatly as I can, ignoring the way little fingers lap at my stomach, urging it to flip over and over as Dare looks at me, as his silver ring glints in the sunlight.

What is it about that one motion, that one tiny thing, that always sticks in my head?  It’s so stupid. Such a silly thing to focus on.  

“As me a question,” Dare finally says, breaking the silence.  “I know you want to.”

“I don’t,” I answer evenly.

“You lie.”

I sigh.  “Maybe.”

He grins wickedly enough to send a nervous thrill through me. “So ask me.”

“Um, let’s see.  How long are you staying here?” I ask conversationally, like I’m not dying to know the answer.

He shrugs. “I’m not sure yet.”

I stare at him. “That’s not an answer.”

“It has to be, because that’s the truth.”

“But sometimes the truth is deceptive,” I fling back at him, and this sobers him right up.

“What do you mean by that?” he asks, somewhat defensively.  Hmm.  Interesting reaction.

“I just meant that sometimes, the truth is so crazy that it doesn’t seem true.  Like you saying you don’t know how long you’ll be here.  You have to know how long you’ll be here.”

He stares at me, amused now.  “But I don’t.”

“You’re frustrating,” I tell him.  He grins.  “Guesstimate, then.”

“Fine,” he says, sounding satisfied.  “If you’re worried about me leaving, I’ll guesstimate.  I guess… I’ll be here as long as it takes.”

“As long as what takes?” I ask.

He shrugs.

I want to throat punch him.

“You’re seriously frustrating,” I answer. He laughs.

“I’ve heard that before,” he admits.

“I bet,” I grumble.

He’s laughing and the sound of it vibrates my ribs, filling my belly with warmth.  It’s a warmth that I don’t deserve to feel.  I try to shove it down, try to shove it away, but the guilt keeps coming back, present in everything I do.

No matter what.

I shouldn’t be sitting here enjoying myself, that’s for sure.

I shouldn’t be fantasizing about this sexy man, dreaming about him, wishing I could be with him.  I don’t deserve it.  I squeeze my eyes tightly shut, and when I open them, I notice something on Dare’s boot, mixed with the grass from the mountainside.

Blood.

“Um. What’s that?” I ask stiltedly, because I already know.

He follows my pointing finger, then meets my gaze.

“It’s blood.  I didn’t realize it was there.”

“What’s it from?” My words are calm, much calmer than my racing heart.

“From a raccoon,” Dare sighs.

My eyes meet his.  “I hit it, didn’t I?”

He nods slowly.

“I killed it?”

He nods again. “It’s dead.”

“Why didn’t you tell me before?” My voice is shaky now, and I fight to control it.

His dark gaze doesn’t waver.  “Because there’s nothing we can do about it.  It’s dead, and I’m sure it was instantaneous.  It didn’t suffer and I didn’t want you to feel bad about it.  I’m sorry.  I should’ve just told you.”