College Cutbacks: Sophomore Year Book IV

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First Things First

Eli's POV

"What are we doing here?"

"What? Not hungry?" He cut the engine then sat back in his seat, looking at me.

"Yeah. I could eat." I was so nervous. What if it goes badly? What if he's not feeling me like I am him?

"Nervous?"

"What? Why would you ask that?"

"Because you are holding on to your seat belt for dear life, and the car isn't even moving."

I chuckled timidly. Ryan was older and more mature. What if he didn't like to date a younger girl? Three years isn't that much of a difference, but he could be a captious person. I didn't get that vibe from him, but I've only known him for a week. What if I acted too hastily?

"Are we going to get out or..."

"Oh. Yeah." I opened the door, tugging at my shirt as I stood. I shook my head, trying to clear out the rummage that was blocking me from functioning like the average person.

"I was going to get that for you."

"It's fine." I looked around at the restaurant. It looked old fashion from where I stood outside. He walked behind me, opening the door for me again. I didn't know guys did that anymore. This proximity was becoming overwhelming, and the fact that we didn't address the elephant in the room didn't help. Well, the elephant in the car. It was making me all the more nervous.

"Hi! Welcome to Burger Bite. Table or booth?" The cheery hostess inquired.

Before I could say anything, Ryan answered. "A booth, in the back."

"Okay, follow me," she requested. She grabbed a couple of menus and escorted us to our booth.

I didn't object. I just plastered on a smile and hoped it didn't look like I want to run for the hills. This anticipation was killing me. The place was practically empty, so I didn't understand why he wanted the booth in the back. Maybe, he wanted privacy so he could let me down easy.

After we sat across from each other, she asked, "What can I get you guys to drink?"

Ryan looked at me, expectedly. "I'll have a sprite."

"And for you, sir?"

He smiled at her. "I'll have a sprite, too."

"Okay. Be right back." When she walked off, placing her pen and pad in her red and white checkered apron, I wished she'd stuck around a little longer so I wouldn't have to endure this rejection.

"Do I look like a sir?" He had his face scrunched up in the cutest way. I thought he'd be the brooding, serious type, but he's quite the opposite.

I shook my head and looked around at the slightly dim lighting and the wooden floors. There were old, signed records in frames hanging on the walls. It was an old fashion styled restaurant with a hint of modern decor. It was quiet besides the clattering coming from the kitchen and a few more people enjoying a night out. Ryan cleared his throat, gaining my attention. He put his elbows on the table and leaned forward.

"So, that kiss was uh..." Straight to the point, huh. Here it comes.

"Let me stop you right there. I get it. I'm too young. It could go badly and ruin Emery, and I's friendship. You don't have to buy me food to soften the blow."

He sat back, looking at me intensely. He placed his hands in his lap. "Hmm."

"What does that mean? 'Hmm,'?"

"Just trying to figure you out. You have a lot going on up there, don't you?"

"In my brain, of course. How does your's work?"

He laughed heartily, making me roll my eyes. He just brought me here to mock me. Maybe, he isn't who I perceived him. I peered at him as his laugh reduced to a grin. "I'm sorry. You're always ready to go, a comeback for everything."

"Well..." I shrugged my shoulders.

"I like it."

I looked down at my lap to hide my blush and humiliation. I jumped down his throat before letting him finish what he was about to say. Thankfully, the waitress returned with our drinks. I hurriedly quenched my throat, shoving the straw in my mouth before I stuck my foot in there again.

"What would you like to order?" The waitress put on a white, toothy smile, holding her pad and pen eagerly.

I scanned the menu, finding it hard to choose. "I'll have a cheeseburger deluxe with bacon and french fries. Thank you."

"And I will have the double burger deluxe with bacon and tater tots."

"Great," we handed her our menus to her, "I'll be right back with your food."

After she left, I picked at my napkin wrapped around my silverware. I could feel Ryan's eyes on me. I gain the courage to look at him, and his brown eye lured me into a staring contest. After what seems like forever, I was finally able to break eye contact.

"So, what is this?"

"I think they still call it a date or did they come up for some other word for it," sarcasm laced his voice.

"Funny." I rolled my eyes, laughing. My heart was pounding that he admitted that is a date. I was giddy on the inside, and my stomach turned into a butterfly tent. I was relieved but tense at the fact that this was a date. I wasn't ready for this.

"I just thought that we should get to know each other a little more."

"Okay. Where do you want to start?" At that moment, our food arrived. She placed our plates in front of us and brought two more sprites. It looked delicious. I took a big bite, and it tastes like heaven on a bun. I squirted ketchup all over my fries and shoved several in my mouth at once. I grabbed my napkin, wiping my mouth, feeling ashamed of my eating habits until I look up at Ryan, who was popping tots in his mouth like tic tacs. I chuckled, making him look up at me.

"I love the food here," he said, wiping his fingers on his napkins. "So first, why are you always so happy?"

"What kind of question is that? Is it a bad thing to smile?"

"Just a question. You are always cheery, even after our night out. You recover a lot faster than normal people do. It just makes me wonder."

"Coffee. Lots and lots of coffee."

"Okay. So let's get serious about this. I want all my cards on the table before you decide you want this." He cleared his throat, sitting back, his matured, broad shoulders spread wide when he rolled his shoulders back. His muscled arms flexed when he moved. His face turned serious, his eyes never leaving mine. "I know this will probably ruin any chance of going on a second date, but I want you to know what you're getting. My dad is an alcoholic. His drinking was so bad that it drove my mom to leave, leaving me behind. He would get so drunk that he barely worked to support us. I would drag him in from the porch into the house when he'd get so drunk that he couldn't unlock the front door. He was a very selfish man, trying to find a solution to his problems at the bottom of a bottle."

He chuckled bitterly. My heart bled for him, but I knew he wasn't telling me this for me to feel pity for him. He was just an open person, I guess. "After mom left, there was no room to be a kid. I had to grow up. That's how I got into tattooing. I had to find a way to eat. Finally, when I couldn't take it anymore, I got emancipated and rented a loft with the money I made. I didn't know that even though I severed ties with my father that I took something with me: Anger. I was a very angry person back then. My fist was the solution to every problem. All those years that I spent taking care of my dad manifested into a bitterness inside of me. I was angry at the world. I ended up dropping out of school at nineteen. It wasn't like I was making the grades anyway. Emery convinced me to get my GED, and I did."

"I still struggle with it every day, but I'm a better person than I was back then. That's why it's easy for me to understand who Lewis and Roman are because I used to be like that. Emery helped me changed that part of me. She made me realize how selfish I was being. I didn't want to be my father. I just hope this doesn't change your perspective of who I am now."

I couldn't move. It was a lot to take in, but that didn't stop my heart from breaking for him. The things that he and Emery had to go through just made my problems seem so small. I stood and went to his side of the booth. I slid in next to his towering frame and grabbed his face, so he was looking in my eyes. He had nothing to be ashamed of, no reason to hang his head low. I searched his eyes while stroking his smooth, shaved jaw. I leaned forward, pulling his head towards me and pressed his soft, light pink lips to mine, hoping to reveal my answer in that kiss.

I just feared when it would be my turn to share my secrets.



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