Chapter 6- Chocolate is the Path to Forgiveness
“The older you get, the more you realize that it isn’t about the material things, or pride or ego. It’s about our hearts and who they beat for.”
Damn my uterus.
It was five o’clock in the morning and dawn was breaking across the sky as I walked across campus, huddled in a blue pea coat against the brisk wind. It was my time of the month, and chocolate was as instrumental as Ibuprofen. Raven had nearly clocked me in the forehead when I bent to tell her I was going out. She’d promptly muttered something about toothpaste and rolled over.
When I reached the plaza a few blocks away, I dove into Pedro’s and ordered a large stack of chocolate chip pancakes, a chocolate milkshake, and chocolate syrup. Waiting for the waitress -who’d been none too pleased to have to move from where she’d been napping on the counterto finish my order, I thought about the past few weeks. My classes were going well, even though I’d had to pull two allnighters to finish my Lit essays. Raven and I were nearly inseparable, and things with her and Jesse were great.
And then there was Landon.
After showing me the breathtaking nook in the trees he’d found for us to meet in, he’d been a rollercoaster of mood swings in class, and the first time we’d officially met up for the project had been nothing short of a disaster. He’d answered every question I’d asked with a sarcastic remark, and the next Saturday he’d cancelled on me. To say I was spitting mad was an understatement. A huge chunk of our grade was on the line, and he was acting like a douche.
It didn’t help that I wildly attracted to him, either.
As loathe as I was to cop to it, I could no longer deny the magnetic pull I felt every time he raked a hand through his silky dark hair, or his shirt pulled up to the light dusting of his happy trail, or when his broad shoulders bunched under his shirt when I asked him a particularly probing question.
God, he was driving me insane.
I’d been too lost in thought to register the presence of a certain someone as he slid into my booth. When fingers tapped my hand, sending a rush of warmth through me, I startled. “Speak of the devil,” I gasped.
Landon smiled crookedly. “And I shall appear.”
Eyeing him, I wondered whether it would be a good idea to rip him a new one. Judging from the dark circles under his eyes and the drawn lines of his face, he was exhausted. Plus, he was in a rare good mood, and the promise of a fully chocolatey meal kept me from bringing up the elephant prancing in the room.
“Do you do that often?” Landon queried lazily. When I responded with a blank stare, he gestured at my face. “You zone out constantly. I hope you have a handle on it while you’re driving.”
“It’s called thinking, Sinclair. I know it might be a foreign concept to you, but the rest of us engage in it quite a bit.”
Landon seemed more amused than offended, but before I had a chance to say something else rude, a humongous stack of chocolate chip pancakes was placed in front of me, along with a whipped cream laden chocolateshake, and fudge syrup in a plastic bear container.
Discretely wiping the drool from my chin, I watched the waitress leave a breakfast burrito and a steaming mug of something in front of my Psych partner. Digging into my food (after slathering it with syrup, of course) I took the opportunity to observe Landon unawares.
He had a blue beanie pulled over dark locks of hair, leaving them curled adorably around his head. The leather wristbands were predictably in place. This time, one said ‘Carpe’ while the other finished with ‘Diem’.
I ogled him while I ate my burrito, chalking up my pervert urges to my period and its hormonal swings. Unfortunately, he must have sensed my rapt attention, because I was only halfway through imagining his toned forearms pinning me against a bed when his gaze flashed to mine.
Blushing deeply, I avoided the knowing spark in those merciless sapphire eyes. Piercing a pancake on my fork, I held it towards him. “Want one?” Even sharing my food wasn’t as disturbing as the electricity flowing in our booth.
To my shock, he leaned forward and closed his lips around my proffered fork. His lips dragged over the silver, ensuring every bite was captured. When his tongue darted out to catch a drop of chocolate on his mouth, I nearly keeled over.
“You know, you could’ve just used a napkin,” I sniffed.
“Where’s the fun in that?”
“Has anyone ever told you you’re a weirdo?”
“Too many to count, angel.”
Shaking my head, I refocused on my pancakes. As delicious as they were, I would have much rather fed them to Landon and seen that little Vegas show again.
Holy ravioli, that man is going to send me straight to the looney bin.
“So beguiling,” he murmured, almost to himself.
“Like Aphrodite?” I blurted, and immediately flushed. “I mean, I’m not comparing myself to the goddess of beauty or anything, it’s just I learned that word in freshman language arts and I always associate it to Aphrodite and I’m going to stop talking now.”
Shaking with silent laughter, Landon looked like was having a ball with my obvious discomfort. Resisting the urge to dump my milkshake over his head-my precious chocolate didn’t deserve such treatment-I glowered.
“Why are you here at this hour, anyway? The place is dead.”
Landon dried his eyes and sighed contentedly. “Damn, I needed that laugh. I was covering the closing shift for a co-worker who couldn’t make it. I got off about an hour ago. I have to walk this way to get through my apartment and I saw you sitting here alone, clearly desperate for my company.”
“Oh yeah, thank goodness you saved me. Maybe you have a secret obsession with Pedro’s.”
“Like you’re one to talk. Do you usually consume half your body weight in sugar every morning?” “Shut up,” I replied brilliantly.
He merely snickered. Motioning the waitress over, he handed her a bill and told her to keep the change. He adjusted his beanie and exhaled. “As hilarious as it’s been, there’s a bed and pillow calling my name. See you tonight, munchkin.”
Before I could tell him to take his munchkin and shove it where the sun don’t shine, he leaned over the table, leaving a scant few inches between our noses. I could see his long, sooty lashes in painstaking detail. The wicked smile he wore left me breathless. “And Aphrodite’s got nothing on you, Sophia Michaels.”
With a wink, he slid from the booth and sauntered out of Pedro’s, leaving me to stare after him like a gob- smacked moron. Why was it every time I came into this restaurant, I ended up wanting to crawl all over Landon Sinclair like a dog in heat?
Beckoning the surly waitress, I requested my bill. She gave me a why-are-you-wasting-my-time look and pointed at the door. “The guy you were with paid for both of you.”
Wait, what? “Are you sure?”
She flipped the notepad and checked with a mocking air. “Yup, he paid.”
The waitress returned to her perch, leaving me feeling like Pedro’s needed better staffing. Why would Landon pay for my breakfast? It didn’t exactly fit in the neat douche image I had of him. Filing it away as another Sinclair Mystery, I left Pedro’s after an exaggerated wave to the waitress. She’d better hope Landon tipped her, because she wasn’t seeing any green from me.
When I returned to the dorm, a few girls were up, roaming the halls or walking to the lounge. Madison caught up with me as I headed to my room. “Hey, Sophia.” She sounded unsure, but my beaming smile steadied her nerves. “Madison! What’re you doing awake this early?”
“My roommate decided it would be a good idea to blow dry her hair with the sunrise,” she grumbled. “I’m a light sleeper.”
I winced in sympathy. “You can come hang with us in our dorm if you want,” I offered. “I don’t have to start my shift at the library for another few hours.”
Unlocking the door, I swept inside, ushering Madison through quickly. In record time, Poe was prowling the edge of the door. Grabbing the sulky cat, I tucked him under one arm and threw the covers off a still-sleeping Raven. She jumped from the bed in a karate position. “I’m a black-belt, motherfucker!” she bellowed, raising her fists.
Poe dug his claws into me as my body shook with laughter. Raven’s streaked hair was frizzed in every direction and she was only wearing a tatty tank top and her panties. Oh, and she was tilting from side to side as she threatened an invisible foe.
Madison had a dazed look as she stared at my offkilter roommate. Probably regretting following me in here to deal with a maniac and a pervert cat.
“I hate you!” Raven screeched upon discovering there were no evil intruders, stomping to the bathroom.
Hopping onto my bed, I folded my legs Indian style and patted the spot in front of me. “She’s not a morning person,” I stated the obvious to Madison. “Sometimes she sleeps through her morning classes, so I have to wake her up.”
Madison was bright red, and I bit back a chuckle. Raven was definitely a thing to behold for the unprepared. Sitting opposite me, Madison shyly tucked a golden strand of hair behind her ear. “Does she always wake up channeling Jackie Chan?” she queried.
By the time Raven exited the bathroom, we were both in hysterics. “I really am a black belt, bitches! You’re lucky I left my diplomas at home!”
I pointed to a spot near Madison on my bed. “Join us, Bruce Lee.”
Sniffing, she stalked over and hopped into bed. She nodded at Madison. “Hey.”
Poe chose then to leap into our circle, startling a shriek from Madison. He landed on her chest, and she flailed like an electrocuted puppet. Raven was clutching her stomach as she attempted to laugh out a liver. I dove towards her, yanking Poe’s claws from her blouse. “Poe! Stop it!”
He licked his paws demurely. “I’m sorry, Madison. He’s not usually this much of a nuisance,” I apologized, dumping Poe to the floor. He shot me a baleful look and trotted to his window seat, tail in the air.
Madison straightened her disheveled appearance, cheeks bright red. “It’s okay. I’m more of a dog person. Oh, and you can call me Maddie-you know, if you want.”
After a few hours of unearned procrastination, Madison headed to her study group, Raven went to meet Jesse, and I relaxed against the window seat, rereading my all-time favorite classic with Poe sleeping on tummy.
My cell phone rang on the dresser. Being careful not to jostle Poe, I set down Jane Eyre and reached for my phone. “Hey, Mom,” I greeted, brushing my fingers lightly through Poe’s fur.
“Sweetheart! I’m surprised you answered.” An intense ache flitted briefly through my chest at the familiar sound of Mom’s warm voice. I blinked back unexpected tears.
“It’s Saturday, so I’m just hanging out in the dorm. How are you and Dad doing?”
“Oh, we’re doing fine. Your Dad bought a new golf club, and it’s all he can jabber about,” she said, exasperated. I grinned. I knew she secretly thought his infatuation with golf was endearing, even after all these years.
“The Meyers are coming over for dinner. Do you know how hard it is to cook for a vegan family? I’m at a complete loss,” she continued.
Letting her ramble for a while, I stared out the window, watching the campus hustle and bustle as the students enjoyed their Saturday. The Sound was already setting up for a poetry reading and the juice bar was open. I checked my watch. My shift at the library started in thirty minutes.
“How’s school going?” Mom asked. “I wish you’d gone somewhere here, honey. Somewhere close to us.” She said this every time we talked, without fail.
“You know why I couldn’t.”
She sighed, drawn and sad. “I know. But I wish it was different.”
“Me too, Mom.”
“Sophocles!” Riker called, waving excitedly. I’d discovered shortly after being hired that my manager was an uncorked cup of crazy. Returning his greeting, I headed to the checkout counter. I hopped onto the stool and began to scan the returned items since the line was empty. When I was done, I had a line of waiting students.
Rolling over the book cart, I filled it with items that were returned a few days ago. I was crouched behind the counter, trying to read the titles of the books at the bottom of the cart. One of them seemed suspiciously tattered. Reaching up without looking, I felt the top of the counter for the scanner. When I encountered warm skin in my search, I yanked my hand back quickly, causing me to fall gracefully on my ass.
Familiar sapphire eyes peered over the counter. “Damn, if I’d known you were this excited to see me, I’d have come sooner.”
Grumbling, I got to my feet. “What are you doing here?”
“What does one usually do at the school library?”
Right. I started awkwardly fumbling around for the scanner. The only thing I should be reading too much into was books. Irritated with myself, I grabbed the CD he wanted to check out and scanned it quickly. I shoved it at him.
“Subtle, aren’t you?”
“I’m the freaking Pink Panther.” I was about to dismiss him when I remembered. “Hey, are we meeting tonight? Uh, you know, for the psych project. Not for anything else. GPA is forever.” Smooth, Sophia. Real smooth. Resisting the urge to smack my palm against my forehead, I attempted to look busy by clicking around on the computer. If he didn’t want to help with the questions, I would be fine. It wasn’t the first time I’d been shorted on a group project. My arms may be puny, but they were used to some heavy lifting.
Landon leaned against the counter, watching me. He kindly ignored my babbling. “Yeah, I guess we are. How does eight sound?”
“I thought your shift at Grimm started at eight?”
His brows rose, and my ears lit up yet again. “Raven was uh, talking about Jesse and mentioned it. I didn’t ask about you. I mean, you told me you worked at a bar. She said she hung out with you guys there and she mentioned the-” my verbal vomit was silenced with Landon’s casual hand over my mouth.
“My shift at Grimm usually starts at nine, but the friend I covered for last night agreed to take my turn tonight. I figure I owe you after blowing you off last time.”
His hand was still firmly over my mouth. Now, I was quite certain I wasn’t the only when with this knee-jerk reaction, but when someone puts their hand over my mouth, I have one reaction and one reaction only.
I licked his hand.
With a sharp inhale, Landon dropped his hold. He looked startled for a second, but it melted into an expression of such pure heat that I had to look away or risk getting burned. Too fast to track his movement, his nose was only a centimeter away from mine, and I was drowning in a sea of blue. “The next time you do that, you’d better be prepared to follow through,” he murmured. My tongue darted out to wet my lips, and Landon groaned softly. I clamped my mouth shut and stopped breathing, willing away the fog of lust sweeping through my mind.
“I’ll see you tonight, cupcake.” Landon tore away from the counter, but I couldn’t resist getting in the last word. “Not if I see you first!”
Landon flashed me a grin that made my bones melt before he disappeared out the door. I waited till he was gone to smack the nearest textbook against head. ‘Not if I see you first’? Who says that? Ugh! One minute I was ready to skewer him on the nearest sharp object, and the next I wanted to wrap myself around him like a boa constrictor.
Hopefully tonight would give me a peek into the mysterious workings of the guy slowly but surely taking over my mind.