“Hey, Tate. How are you?” Ben Jamison plopped down on the bench next to me, looking as good as always. We had zilch in common, but he was cute and made me laugh.
“Hi. I’m good. You?” I had spoken to Ben a few times lately. He seemed not to notice the rumor about Jared and me in the locker room.
“I’m good…” He strung out the “good” like he was nervous and looking for what to say next. “There’s this Mexican restaurant, Los Aztecas, that opened up while you were away, and I was wondering if you’d let me apologize for being a dick and not asking you out a lot sooner by taking you to dinner this week?” He raised his eyebrows and waited.
A surprised laugh jumped out of my throat. Well, he was refreshingly honest.
“Um, well…” I searched for words. “How do I know you won’t be a dick on our date?” I challenged him. K.C. giggled beside me.
Ben’s eyes smiled, and he bit his bottom lip, clearly turning over something in his head. He took out a piece of paper from his notebook and started writing. After about a minute, he handed the paper to me and walked off. Looking over his shoulder just once and offering a winning smile, he turned and disappeared into the cafeteria.
“What does it say?!” K.C. peered down at the note in my hand before taking a bite of her chicken wrap.
Opening it up, I immediately smiled. He had written a contract.
To Whom It May Concern,
I promise to take Tatum Brandt to dinner. She is pretty, smart, and lovely. I should consider myself lucky if she says yes.
If I act like a dick, then I am a stupid, brainless ass**le. All who see this note have my permission to retaliate in any way necessary.
The Most Attractive, Humorous, Wealthy Superhero in School,
I passed the note to K.C. and watched as she tried not to spit out food during her laughter. Not three seconds later I got a text.
Tonight, pick u up at 7?
He wasn’t giving me much time to think about it, was he? I had been using my dad’s car since returning, so I texted him back and told him I would meet him there. I’d rather have the option to leave when I wanted.
Sounds good! he shot back right away.
I couldn’t keep the smile off my face, and K.C. was looking at me curiously.
“Well?” she asked with her mouth full.
“He’s taking me to dinner tonight.” Even though I was excited to be on an actual date, my tone was cavalier. Ben seemed like nice guy, but I noticed that my heart didn’t beat faster when he was around. Wasn’t it supposed to? “I’m meeting him at seven.”
There had been a few dates while I studied abroad, but none of them turned out to be more than friends. Ben and I had different interests, but it wasn’t like guys had been pounding down my door lately. I could go on one date with him. Hey, maybe he’d surprise me.
“That’s awesome. Call me tonight after you get home. I want to hear how it goes,” K.C. probably knew I was still apprehensive about the attention I’d been getting. After so long of not trusting people and being ignored outside of my small circle, my head fogged at the idea of one of the best looking guys in my class asking me out.
Paranoid! I chastised myself.
After the latest rumor, things seemed to have calmed down, though. Apparently, Mr. Fitzpatrick, the Drama teacher, was caught in a rendezvous with senior Chelsea Berger, so I was old news…for now.
Dinner with Ben started off with him clearing the air, so to speak.
“I never believed that crap about you, Tate. I’ll admit, I was one of the ones to laugh at first, but after a while all I had to do was look at you or see how you acted in class to know that something wasn’t adding up.” He took a sip of soda and added, “Plus, you look too clean to have lice.”
I shook my head and smiled at those stupid rumors. “Well, you’d be one of the few to think differently of me, then. But be honest. It was the picture of me in my towel that got you, wasn’t it?”
Ben nearly choked on his chip as he laughed. Blowing off all the shit of the past few years seemed like the best idea right now. Jared was drama. K.C. was drama. I wanted Ben to be easy. I just wanted to have fun tonight.
We ate enchiladas, and he joked that if they made a Mexican-Sushi restaurant, he would never eat anywhere else again. Even though I wasn’t a fan of sushi, I snorted at the hilarious concept.
“So why did you ask me out?” I dipped one of the remaining chips from our meal in the salsa and took a bite.
“Honestly? I’ve been wanting to for a long time. I never had the guts, though. You’re kind of on my bucket list.”
I wasn’t sure whether that was a compliment or an insult. “How do you mean?” This date might be ending sooner rather than later.
“You know, one of those ‘I-simply-must-do-this-before-I-die’ type lists? I needed to get to know you better. I was always interested. Then, when you came back from Europe, and I saw you the first day of school, I just couldn’t get you out of my head.”
I narrowed my eyes, listening to him. I’d kept my head down for most of high school, not knowing that Ben had a crush. I couldn’t help but think how different school would have been if Jared had never turned on me?
“So you’ve been scared away by rumors all these years? What a coward.” I chastised sarcastically. What surprised me was that the barb came out of my lips so easily. I wasn’t nervous around him, and my shoulders relaxed. It nipped at the back of my mind that it also meant that I didn’t care what he thought either.