I brace for impact just in case I’ve gotten it wrong, but she smiles as if I’ve just given her some great reward.
Having nothing more to say, I turn all of my attention back to the road. Why did I go out with her? It was stupid. Suffocating. I can’t get her home soon enough. I turn on the radio in a desperate attempt to fill the silence. Jack White is singing about falling in love with a ghost he’s not brave enough to kiss. I stab the off button with more force than necessary.
Thank God we’re now in front of her sorority house because I don’t think I can drive any more. I pull over and brake hard enough to send us both rocking forward.
As if she’s been waiting for this moment, Shannon turns in her seat and gives me an expectant look. Her body language is crystal clear, from the way she leans in toward me, to her gaze flitting from my mouth to my eyes. She wants me to kiss her.
My fingers tighten around the steering wheel, and the leather creaks.
I’m not kissing her in this car. Not where I first got my mouth on Anna’s. Just seeing another girl sitting in the passenger seat is a slap in the face. It’s wrong. Anna should be there. In a way, she is. Haunting me with each breath. That my safe haven is now effectively ruined makes me want to punch something.
With a snap of the seatbelt, I wrench open my door and stumble into the cold night air. I suck in a deep breath as I round the car and open the door for my date.
Not deterred, she manages to slide her body against mine when she rises out of the car. Hell.
“So,” she murmurs, resting a hand on my chest, “thanks for taking me out tonight.”
I edge back, shutting the car door with my hip. She follows, and her hand finds my neck.
“Yeah, sure.” I sound like an idiot. I am an idiot. Why did I go out tonight?
Her eyes stare up at me. Waiting.
No. Not going to happen. I can’t even stir up a bit of enthusiasm. But then I think of Anna going home with Mr. Yuck. She’s moved on. Frowning, I bend my head closer to the girl who is willing. Rosy lips part in invitation. I stall out.
Just do it. Do it and move on too. Kiss the damn girl, already.
She takes the decision out of my hands. Her lips mash into mine. They feel wrong, not the right shape. She smells wrong, of sweet flowers instead of warm spices. Wrong, wrong, wrong. My entire body recoils. I rear back, breaking out of her hold in an awkward fumble. Jesus. My dick actually feels like it’s shriveled in my shorts.
“Sorry,” I say just as she does.
Heat floods my face. I ought to have been able to at least go with the kiss. She’s cute, after all. And wiling. Instead, my flesh crawls. And it pisses me off. I’m infected with Anna. I want to punch a hole through the roof of my car.
Giving Shannon an unsteady laugh, I step further away, my ass hitting the car door. “I’m ah…”—completely f**ked—”tired.”
“Yeah…” Her wrong-shaped mouth twists in a half smile. “You said that.”
“Right.” God, just get me out of here.
But before I can make an escape, she talks again, her tone strangely neutral. “Is it because of her?”
I jerk so hard that my elbow hits the car window. “Her?”
Shannon blinks back at me. “You know, the redhead in the bar.” So much for me being subtle. “Is she the one you had that blow out with? Is she Red Hen?”
“Red Hen?” I repeat, my head buzzing. What. The. Hell?
She gives me a look designed to reassure, though I’m far from it. But there’s a gleam in her eyes like she’s dying for gossip. Does she honestly think I want to talk about Anna with her? And, again: Red Hen? Oh, hell no.
“You know,” she says, “the one that they were talking about on Twitter and Instagram.”
An ugly, sick feeling trickles over my shoulders. For a moment I can only stare at this girl as the buzzing in my ears grows louder. “What the hell are they saying?”
Oblivious of my growing anger, she answers eagerly. “That you dumped some redhead in the middle of the quad.”
That day haunts me still. Hearing someone else talk about it hurts my chest.
“Why are they calling her Red Hen?” I sound like I’m talking through a long tunnel. Does Anna know this? She’d hate that. Hate it.
“I don’t know who came up with that.”
“What does it mean?” My heart is thudding so hard it hurts. As a rule, I stay far away from social media. Obviously the guys were keeping something from me, because they’d usually tell me about any nonsense.
Shannon shifts from one foot to the other. Her sudden twitchiness makes my hackles rise further. “I guess it’s because she tried to trap you into a relationship. You know, by getting pregnant.”
The ground seems to sway beneath me, and a cold sweat breaks over my skin. Holy shit. Is Anna pregnant? She didn’t look… Hell, what does early pregnancy even look like? But she would have told me tonight, wouldn’t she? Then again, I’d pretty much gone on the offensive with her, which didn’t exactly make for an easy opening to a topic like that. Holy f**king shit, but if she is…
I’m going to hurl. Right here on Shannon’s sidewalk. Yet behind the instant terror is a strange sort of elation. If Anna is pregnant, I’m going to her and am sticking. Screw pride.
Somehow, I find the ability to talk. It’s a miracle that I can form a sentence. “Why do people think she’s pregnant?”
Maybe Shannon finally notices that I’m about to lose my shit because she clamps up.
“Why!” My shout rings out in the night.