He looked completely lost when it came to ordering so I took some initiative and got him a classic.
"What do you mean you don't like pickles? There's something definitely wrong with you! They're the best part!"
Connor peels the little slices of green goodness from his burger like they're a disease he's removing from his presence. "You want these?"
I nod emphatically, opening my burger bun and gesturing for him to add them through my mouthful of fries. Usually if someone touched my food with their fingers I’d slap them but considering where those fingers were a few days ago I’m not sure I’m in a position to say anything.
Hope watches in awe as I open the lid of my shake before dunking in my fries and eating them.
'Can I do that Dad?' She signs to Connor. He gives me a disgruntled look but before he can say anything I just start opening her milkshake without caring for his answer.
'Of course you can sweetheart.'
Connor finally takes a mouthful of his burger after staring at the thing for long enough and practically throws his head back as the flavour hits him, moaning almost as hard as that day in the park - almost. "That's so good!"
Ah-ha! You can never beat a Big Mac! “Told you.” Another one converted to fast food, next stop – Tara.
Hope smirks at me and signs under the table about her Dad and his love of food, making me laugh. The kid was funny.
"Where did you learn to sign? You're pretty decent." He states, before wolfing down another bite of Big Mac.
"I had twins in one of my dance classes, one deaf and one hearing. Daphne could lip read pretty well but I wanted to be able to speak her language so I went on a course with my friend Harley at the church. They were incredible to watch. One twin following the sound of the music, one the vibrations at their feet but both perfectly in sync. Completely mesmerising."
Connor smiles up at me. "I didn't know you danced, well outside the club, are you good?"
I smile back. "I'm the best. Took my group to five finals, won nationals a few years ago too. Dance was my whole life."
I take a sip of my milkshake and lower my eyes to the table as I push around my fries. "At the shooting at my school nearly four years ago my friend Harley was killed. He was the most beautiful dancer - strong, emotive and passionate. He'd danced every dance with me for nearly fifteen years... I just couldn't bring myself to go back and do it without him."
The break in my voice triggers something in Connor as he stretches across the table and takes my hand in his, shit, I hate people thinking I’m vulnerable. "I'm so sorry Brie, I remember when that happened. Were you there?"
I nod and try to pull back the tears in my eyes. I hate crying even more, I've done it a handful of times in front of people in my entire life and I don't plan to add today to that list. Talking about that night is always hard but I'd done a lot of group therapy and I know avoiding the topic doesn't help either.
"I was lucky, I managed to avoid even seeing the shooter. The first shot fired and my friend Kallie grabbed my hand and pulled me straight outside. I tried to run back in, my baby sister was still inside but my friend Chad got her out and handed her to me before she even knew what was happening. He died that night too, threw his body in front of my best friend and saved her life."
Connors grip on my hand tightened. "Sounds like a hell of a guy."
I chuckle. "Actually I spent most of my life hating his guts, turns out he was a hero in disguise though. I'm not sure May will ever get over losing him, or Harley. She was so young when it happened but she still talks about them like it happened yesterday. I'd give anything to have them both back, the world is poorer for not having them in it."
I become very aware that my hand is still in his and pull it away, I don’t do hand holding.
Hope smiles up from her Happy Meal having missed the whole chat, taking her fries and dunking them in her shake just like I did, her eyes widening as the perfect combination of sweet and salty meets her tongue.
"It's good right?"
She smiles widely as she nods, before grabbing another fry and placing it in her shake. I spot the bobble from her bunches slipping so tighten it quickly before it falls out completely, making sure to be delicate with her little baby hairs.
When I turn back Connor is smiling at me but quickly puts his head back down.
"What's that look for?" I question before finishing the last of my shake.
"She's got a bit of a thing about her hair, doesn't usually let people touch it unless it's me. You should feel honoured." Oh crap. I hadn't even thought about it, I'm so used to taking care of May it's just instinct to do that stuff I guess.
I look over at her cute face as she turns from her food to the toy that came with the meal and starts putting it together. “Why didn’t you tell me about her? We were having one of those drunken spill your guts to a stranger conversations but you didn’t think to mention you have a kid?”
He falls back against the back of the booth, his wide size taking up most of the seat. “I don’t know honestly. I get to go out once every few months if I’m lucky, so for one night I don’t have to be Dad. I guess I wanted to just be Connor for a few hours. I should’ve told you... but honestly, would you have run for the hills when I did?”
“Probably... but you shouldn’t take that personally, I mean I kind of ran away from you anyway.” I try to laugh the situation off but the room reads as far more tense than it did thirty seconds ago.
“Why did you run like that?”
Shit. Fuck. I’ve never actually had to have this conversation with someone I’ve had a one night stand with before, I rarely ever see them again – and if I do it’s not exactly talking they usually want to do with me.
“Look I’m sorry if you were like.. annoyed? It’s just...” I check Hope is too preoccupied to read my lips. “I’m not the kind of girl that you cuddle and fall asleep next to. I know what guys want from a girl like me and what I can get in return. I get in, get the job done, get out. It’s been working for me fine, all the fun none of the fuss. Sorry if I didn’t make that clear that night...”
He scans over me but I hold my look firm. “Don’t you ever want more?”
Nope. “More what? More chances for a guy to destroy me like I’ve watched every other woman in my life get destroyed? No thank you, I’m good with the hollow cage that sits where my heart should be.”
There’s a long moment of silence but I refuse to break it.
Finally he talks. “You have a much bigger heart than you’d let people believe.”
I squint my eyes at him, trying to see what he’s cooking up in his head. “Oh yeah? How are you so sure?”
He grins at me. “Because you haven’t moved her.”
I feel confused until I follow his line of sight down to my lap, where Hope has rested her head and is sleeping soundly whilst I mindlessly stroke her hair.
Why are kids so adorable when they sleep? Even if you meet one of those evil little bastard ones, as soon as they’re sleeping you’d throw yourself in front of a train before you’d risk waking them.
“Where’s her mum?” I ask gently, continuing to stroke the side of her tiny chubby cheeks.
Connor sighs. “It’s a long story, she sees her every few months but it’s definitely more out of duty than actual love. Hope lost her hearing when she was two, there was an... accident... Her mother couldn’t cope so she left. She calls every now and again but that’s about it. My ex-mother in-law is amazing with her though, she has stayed a constant presence in her life despite her own daughters lack of interest.”
Just like Granny. How could anyone not want this gorgeous little thing? I know I don’t want kids myself but if I had to, I’d want one just like this cutie.
“She’s lucky to have you.”
I don’t look back to get his reaction, I meant it. I have no experience of what it’s like to have a father but this little girl has turned out so well, he must be doing something right.
Connor comes over to our bench and scoops up sleeping beauty into his arms like she’s completely weightless. I follow as he carries her back to the car and buckles her into her car seat.
“Thanks for coming, she’ll probably be talking about you for the next week.”
I’m really glad I did honestly, she’s a special little girl... With a special Dad. “It’s okay, I’m used to people meeting me and never being able to forget me, I’m kind of amazing that way.”
He chuckles to himself. “You’re really not lacking in the confidence department are you?... I guess I wouldn’t be either if I was as unforgettable as you.”
Looking up into his bright green eyes I feel myself being pulled forward until my hands are laid against his chest. Even in these heels he’s still so much taller than me, I’m not used to that.
The street lights that surround the car park only seem to bask him in an amber glow, the warmth of his body and soul reflected in the light around him.
“Don’t sell yourself short good boy. You’re not quite as forgettable as people would lead you to think. Trust me.”
His hands take hold of my waist and keep me against him, although I was finding myself hesitant to move away before he even put his hands there.
We stand for a moment, the silent night covering us like a blanket as my eyes travel from his orbs to his lips. Those lips, those full plump lips that shocked me to my core when they kissed me with so much passion. He really was an incredible kisser... hell he was pretty incredible in every department.
His gaze is on mine now too, his hold on me only increasing. My hands slide up from they’re place on his chest to his shoulders before smoothing over the skin and looping around his neck.
I can’t stop staring at his lips. Why can’t I just stop staring at his lips?
He holds my hips so tight I’m starting to feel like he’s trying to use it to anchor us both to this point, to this moment.
I need to do something, I can’t just leave it like this.
Leaning up he doesn’t move, my lips press delicately against his for the briefest of seconds before I pull myself entirely from his grip once again. “Good night good boy.”
I don’t allow him the time to respond, if he tried to pull me back to him right now I couldn’t guarantee the same restraint.
Getting in the bug I don’t even turn on the radio, pulling out of my space and racing towards home, only glancing in my rear window once... to see him still standing by the car... his fingers running over his lips.