The First Bite
“I don’t know where to start,” Mickey whispered apologetically, her breathless words strung together in desperation.
Okay. I know what you’re thinking, folks. This is her chance. And she’s blowing it, right? She really needs to grow up. He deserves so much better than this. Blah, blah, blah…
Following a controlled exhale, Cale replied flatly, “I see.”
Oh, come on now! Can you really blame the girl? How on Earth is she supposed to concentrate on a metaphorical elephant somewhere in the room when there’s a deliciously handsome and dangerously shirtless man within arms reach? How???
“Why don’t I kick off this painfully awkward conversation then?” Leaning forward, Cale set his plate and untouched pizza down onto the coffee table, before deadpanning, “Minus the whole kicking part, of course.”
“Wow.” Mickey pursed her lips in mock disapproval but couldn’t resist a giggle. “That was terrible.”
“As long as I can still make you smile.”
You can always make me smile.
And just like that, he means business again.
“I owe you an apology for the other day…”
“Fatherhood is a bit of a sore subject for me,” his voice was perfectly composed and matter-of-fact, “but that’s no excuse for the way that I spoke to you.”
“It’s okay, Cale…”
“No,” he insisted firmly. “It’s really not.”
With a small shrug, Mickey prodded at her cold slice of pepperoni before tossing it carelessly next to Cale’s abandoned dinner.
Who has room for pizza when there’s a whole elephant to devour?
“To be completely honest, if anyone else had said the same thing to you, I would’ve…” trailing off into a low chuckle, Cale didn’t bother to complete the sentence.
With a smile tugging at her lips, Mickey questioned innocently, “You would’ve what?”
He took a few seconds to deliberate his choice of words before replying evenly, “Taken care of the situation.”
She raised an eyebrow in amusement. “So, in other words, you would’ve beaten them to a bloody pulp?”
Breaking into a sheepish and adorably crooked grin, Cale finally conceded, “Yeah, something along those lines.”
“I think it’s sweet.”
“Sweet?” he snorted indignantly. “Maybe if I were an uncouth barbarian.”
“I quite like the uncouth barbarian in you.”
Are you flirting?
“Is that right?”
“Yep. In fact, you’re kind of dressed like one right now.”
Yep. You’re definitely flirting.
“These are sweatpants,” he reminded wryly, rolling his eyes at the ridiculous comparison. “Not a loincloth fashioned out of bear hide.”
“I’m sure we could improvise.”
Where are you going with this?
“We’d better not,” Cale teased gently. “You wouldn’t be able to keep your hands off me then.”
“To be completely honest,” Mickey reached up to tuck a stray lock of ebony hair behind her ear, shocked at her own newfound ballsiness, “I’m having trouble even without the loincloth.”
Cocking his head to one side, Cale seemed to be contemplating what exactly would be the appropriate response to her very uncharacteristic brazenness.
Why in the world did you say that, Mickey? Have you completely lost your mind? What exactly did you expect to happen here? Did you really think that he’d just wheel back into our life and…
“And to be completely honest, Mickey…”
“I can’t exactly think straight at the moment,” he paused momentarily, holding her eyes in a steely emerald vice grip all the while, “with how you’re taking advantage of me.”
Mickey blinked in confusion.
“I may not be able to feel that,” he admitted, breaking into a crooked grin, “but you know I’m not blind, right?”
More blinking. More confusion.
Cale’s eyebrow twitched visibly before he dropped his gaze down to his lap.
And she followed his lead…
Oh. My. God.
With a mortified gasp, Mickey instantly jerked her hand away from its forbidden resting place on Cale’s thigh. High up on his thigh. Suggestively high…
Blushing profusely, she managed to stammer, “I-I’m so s-sorry.”
“I wasn’t complaining.”
“I-I didn’t m-mean to d-do that.”
“I-I really d-didn’t.”
A cloud of darkness washed over Cale’s expression that made her cringe.
That’s not a good sign.
“Would you mind grabbing my shirt, please?”
“I realize it’s nowhere near dry,” he shot her a tight smile, “but I’d rather not flash your neighbors, if possible.”
Swinging her legs to the floor and rising to her feet, Mickey whispered, “A-are you l-leaving?”
She stared in disbelief as he reached around the side of the couch for his wheelchair and smoothly transferred into it.
“I have an early morning tomorrow,” Cale explained coolly, his voice having settled into an eerie calmness as he deftly positioned his feet onto the footrest and readjusted his legs. “It was a pleasure to see you again, Mickey…”
Taken aback by Mickey’s sudden outburst, Cale peered up to meet her gaze with a steady resolve, his tone betraying no emotion whatsoever. “Stop what?”
“You heard me, Cale.”
“How am I lying, Mickey?” he asked flatly.
“You should get going,” Mickey came to the realization that the wretched stammer had actually disappeared, as she made her pointed reminder, “since you have an early morning tomorrow?”
“You don’t need to treat me with kid gloves,” she continued on boldly. “If you want to leave then just leave.”
“I never said I wanted to leave.”
“But you’re going to anyway, right?”
“We both know I shouldn’t have come here tonight.”
“Only you know that,” she retorted tersely.
“At least I know what I want,” he shot back through gritted teeth.
“Which is what, exactly?”
A long and exhausted sigh. “Just forget it.”
“No,” he growled, shaking his head firmly. “Nothing’s changed. We’re over.”
She already knew that it was true. But they had never officially ended their relationship. And hearing the words was heartwrenching…
One second, she was blinking back hot tears and the next second…
Cale’s hand was on her waist, pulling her towards him.
To be continued in Chapter Nineteen…