“Do you want anything to drink?” Reece offered, heading for the kitchen. “I have beer and soft drinks. And Roxy has half my fridge loaded with sweet tea.”
“I’m fine,” I called, shoving my oddly icy hands between my knees. “Thanks.”
Reece and Brad started off first, playing against Colton and Abby. Each player was racing against one another, and if either team member won, it counted for the team. Brad won the first round, and he was legit taking score. Abby handed over the controller, and of course I chose the princess as my character, and of course I could barely keep the damn thing on track. I sucked, but it was funny and the sides of my stomach ached from laughing so much.
After a few rounds the death match paused so the guys could get refills. I noticed Nick wasn’t drinking, and I wondered if he didn’t drink that much at all. The night at my place, he hadn’t even finished half the bottle.
I chatted with Abby, quickly discovering that she was a sweetheart and that she and Colton had only recently starting seeing each other.
“Are you and Nick together?” she asked, keeping her voice low. The guys were in the kitchen, but that wasn’t very far away.
“No. We’re just friends.”
“Oh.” Her brow wrinkled. “I thought you guys were. I don’t know him well, but ever since Colton and I started dating, I’ve never seen him with someone.”
That didn’t surprise me. I started to respond, but the guys returned, and Nick sat a glass of water for me down on the coffee table, next to a bowl of chips Reece had planted. I hadn’t asked for it, but it was a courtesy and sweet gesture that Abby noticed with eyes like a hawk.
I stayed longer than I thought I would, sucking utterly at Mario Kart, but I was enjoying my time with everyone. The only reason I left a little after ten was because I had work in the morning, unlike the rest of them, who had unorthodox schedules. When I rose and said good-bye, Nick tossed his controller to Colton and followed me out.
“You didn’t have to leave,” I told him as he closed Reece’s door behind us.
“I know.” He shoved his hands into the pockets of his jeans as we started walking down the hall. “I’m being a good friend and walking you home.”
I laughed as I glanced up at him. “I live here.”
“Such a long walk, though. And cold.” He shuddered. “Damn, it’s cold out here.”
He was not lying. A skin-chilling wind whipped through the hallway. My arms were wrapped around my chest as we headed down to the first floor. We stopped at my door, and I dug my keys out of the pocket of my jeans.
“Thanks again for the chicken soup.” I turned to him, smiling. “I had fun tonight.”
Nick cocked his head to the side. “So did I. Reece usually does this every other week. You know you’re more than welcome to join in.”
Reece had said as much as I left, and I would definitely love to do it again, especially if Roxy was there. I imagined playing Mario with her would virtually be like playing against myself. “You’re heading back up?”
“Yeah. Just for a little while. Then I’m going to head on home.”
“How far do you live from here?” I asked, unsure if I had asked that question before.
“Not that far. About fifteen minutes. I live just on the other side of Plymouth.” Nick’s brows knitted and his mouth opened, like he was about to speak, but he appeared to change his mind. “Well, I hope you keep feeling better.”
“Me, too.” I studied him from under my lashes. “Have a nice night.”
Nick’s gaze flickered over my head, toward my door, and then he stepped back. “Don’t be a stranger, Stephanie.”
“Ditto,” I whispered.
A small grin appeared and then he pivoted around. I watched until he hit the stairwell and disappeared. I went into my apartment, closed the door and then got ready for bed. It was still early, and while I was tired enough to call it night, I lay in bed for too long, trying to figure Nick out.
The boy had baggage and questionable dating ethics, but he was sweet and kind enough to make homemade chicken soup? He still wanted me and yet he was denying the attraction in order to be friends with me? Why? Why, when he hadn’t done so before with any other girl? It wasn’t because I was a special snowflake. There had to be a reason. Something.
Figuring him out was impossible.
Nick was like a jigsaw puzzle where the most intricate pieces had been misplaced, and deep down I knew that no matter how many times I would shake the puzzle up and start over, those pieces would always be missing and I would never have the complete picture.
The nausea came and went the rest of the week, striking at the oddest moments, sometimes in the morning, other times in the afternoon, and Thursday night right before bed. Friday, I grabbed lunch at a dinner down the street from work, and the smell of grease nearly took my legs out from underneath me. My stomach had never been this sensitive before, and normally I loved the smell of all things greasy.
I was no longer convinced that I was coming down with a virus or something, and when I chatted with my mom Friday evening, I almost brought it up, but I didn’t want to worry her. Besides, I’d made an appointment with a general practitioner who had an opening in two weeks at a nearby clinic. I didn’t think anything was seriously wrong, but the nausea and fatigue were starting to freak me out. I’d never had any health problems before, and I could count on my hand how many times I’d actually had a cold.
Sunday morning I was feeling fine. A little tired, but my stomach was grumbling happily as I puttered around the apartment. My butt needed to run since I’d missed the last couple of days, but it looked like it was going to rain and . . . and yeah, I wasn’t feeling the whole physical exercise thing. Instead, I took a long and drawn out shower and then pulled on a pair of jeans. I yanked my hair up in a quick knot, bypassed the makeup except for a quick sweep of lipstick and mascara. Looping a pale blue scarf around my neck, I headed out.
Tomorrow I would run, like, a million miles.
I left my apartment to meet up with Roxy for breakfast. Katie was out of town this weekend, which was disappointing. She could turn a Sunday breakfast at IHOP into an adventure. The parking lot was full, forcing me to park near the back. Thick clouds blocked the sun, and chilly fall rain was ready to pour down. Before I got out of my car, I checked my phone. No missed calls or messages. I wasn’t even sure why I was checking.
Definitely not for any missed calls or texts from Nick.
Nope. Definitely not.
I dashed across the parking lot, slowing to a more sedate pace when I reached the sidewalk instead of plowing into a group of elderly women.
Cute stickers of ghosts had been applied to the glass doors, reminding me that I needed to get a pumpkin and start to stock up on candy, though I had no idea if kids trick or treated near the condo or not.
I hoped so.
Halloween turned me into such a goober.
Once inside, I rounded the hostess desk and scanned the packed restaurant. My mouth dropped open when I saw Roxy in a wide, half-moon-shaped booth toward the back.
“Oh my God,” I whispered, stiffening.
Roxy was not alone, like I expected.
Three girls sat with her—blond-haired Calla, the widely smiling Teresa, and redheaded Avery. It was like a freaking rainbow over there. My feet wouldn’t move as the air punched out of my lungs. They hadn’t seen me yet. I could just turn right around and—