39,433
07.03.2019

Looking around the meat section, I see Nat pick up two types of ground beef. She looks back and forth between them for a whole minute. I take them both out of her hands, put one in the cart and put the other back on the shelf. She scowls at me but I’m ready for her. “What? It’s just beef!”

“It’s not just beef! One has five percent less fat! And lucky for you, that’s the one you put in the cart.”

I roll my eyes and mumble, “Whatever, lady.” I stock the cart with four different types of meat.

Okay, so I’m a typical bachelor.

I like meat. Nothing beats a good steak. I could eat steak every damn day. I think that’s what’s on tonight’s menu and I’m already looking forward to it.

We go aisle by aisle and the cart is filling up. I add the essentials; potato chips, chocolate, ketchup, peanut butter, jelly, chocolate sauce and full fat milk. Nat adds things I’ve never even heard of; quinoa, whole wheat crackers, hummus, udon noodles, two percent milk and vegeta. I’m just about to ask if she’s a health nut when she puts chocolate spread, three different types of ice cream and bacon into the cart.

That’s better.

God, I hate when women starve themselves. I like my women curvy. Ever since Nat, I’ve been avoiding curvy women and settling for slender instead. There’s no comparison so why even try.

We head down the pharmacy aisle and I stop right in front of the condoms. I look at Nat to find her looking right back at me.

It’s a stare off.

We stare at each other for almost a minute before I grab two boxes off the shelf. I put them in the cart. “One for you and one for me. You’ll probably need it with your new guy around.”

I’ve been trying to work him into a conversation somehow.

“Oh, I hadn’t even thought about that.” she replies quietly.

It sounds genuine. So I prod. “What? You mean to tell me you don’t sleep with who you please?”

She turns slightly and avoids my eyes when she responds, “Of course I do.”

False.

She’s lying.

I can read people well and I’d bet my life savings that Nat doesn’t sleep around which makes me wonder why she let me pull her into the conference room that night.

That makes me happy. Even though I have no right to feel happy about that.

“So, when are you seeing the angry man again?”

She immediately jumps to his defense. “He’s not an angry man! He just thought you were coming on to me, and his name is Cole, by the way. I’m going out with him tomorrow night.”

I can understand that. If someone came between me and my woman… I mean, if I was with Nat and some guy came on to her in front of me, I’d want to break his skull. But something about him isn’t right. I’ll have to use my resources and look into him.

Looking at the shelves, I tell her, “You need to get me a last name, pretty girl. Something about that boy ain’t right. Too jittery.”

She frowns, but I see her eyes blankly focus on the shelves, which makes me believe she thinks the same thing I do. She concedes on a nod. “Okay. Any more weird stuff, and I’ll let you check him out. And I’ll be honest with you about it. But if I see he’s just a normal guy, you will butt out.” She holds out her hand and I take it in mine. We shake then continue shopping.

From this one experience, I can tell I’ll be happy to shop with her again. I like the way she walks around the cart, brushing past me. She talks to herself too, and I feel my body relax and my mind calm. I could listen to her talk all day. Half an hour later and we’re done, checked out and in my car driving home.

We both take bags full of groceries up to our apartments, and just as I’m about to say goodbye, Nat stops suddenly and blurts out, “Do you want to watch TV with me tonight?”

She wants to spend more time with me?

We’ve spent all morning together, and I’m actually really pleased she isn’t sick of me yet.

“Um- Ah- Uh, yeah. I guess. I mean, it’ll have to be here though. I don’t own a TV,” I stammer.

She gasps loudly and puts a hand to her chest. She whispers loudly, “You don’t own a TV?”

I would expect this reaction if I told her I had a bionic heart.

I smirk. “Nope. No, I don’t.”

She puts a hand on my arm and whispers again, “What is wrong with you?”

I lean my head back and burst out laughing.

Nat’s face softens, her lips tilt at the corner and she speaks full of awe, “Wow.”

Still chuckling, I ask, “What?”

She shifts from one foot to the other, looks to the ground and says softly, “That’s the first time I’ve heard you laugh.” She nervously plays with a ring on her finger. “That’s one of the nicest sounds I’ve ever heard, Ghost. You should do it more often.”

And then she’s gone.

Warmth spreads through me, causing my chest to expand and I smile.

Well hell.

I take my smile and strut like a peacock back to my apartment.

Chapter Four

The date

Last night was actually pretty great.

Ghost came over just after seven. When I say he came over, I mean he broke in through the patio sliding door and waltzed right in like he owned the place. We sat on opposite ends of my ridiculously comfortable sofa and watched TV.

He came dressed in sweats, a tee and barefoot. Of course, he looked amazing.

He always looks amazing.

I had already showered and was wearing my pajamas. I decided to put a bra underneath my tank. I usually leave the girls free, but I didn’t want to give him a free show and all.

I found it hilarious that I had to explain reality shows to him. He didn’t really like reality TV, so we flicked through channels and settled on a show about baking. He was actually watching the bakers in awe. He would make quiet comments like, “Would you look at that?” and “That looks great.” I found it so adorable that I burst into laughter a few times. I couldn’t help but ask, “Why don’t you own a TV?”

He shrugged before explaining, “Never really understood sitting down and watching someone else live their life when we should be living ours. I watch things on the internet, but I’ve never sat down for entire episodes of a TV show before. But I like cooking channels.”

So we spent almost five hours watching the cooking channel.

And, surprisingly, I enjoyed it.

We ate ice cream out of the same tub and would chat on occasion, but really, we just enjoyed each other’s company in silence for the most part. When I peeked at the clock and saw it was almost midnight, I told Ghost to go home. He looked disappointed, so I told him he could stay til his cooking show was finished. I think I surprised us both when I kissed the top of his head and went to my room. I heard him leave about ten minutes later through the back patio way.

I wondered how he locks that door from the outside. I’ll have to ask him.

Within minutes, I was catching Zs.

This morning, I woke to the smell of coffee.

Confused, I got out of bed and saw a large coffee and a brown paper bag on my kitchen counter. I walked over to it and saw a note paper poking out from under the paper bag. I unfolded the paper and read to myself.

Sorry I kept you up last night. I think you’ll need the coffee this morning. I got you a muffin to say thanks for breakfast yesterday.

I’m smiling like an idiot. I fold the note and put it in my fruit bowl, then I get ready for work.

Today is going to be a good day.

I woke to the wonderful smell of coffee, had a delicious blueberry muffin for breakfast and tonight I’m going on a date with a hot guy.

Eeek!

I’m excited!

I didn’t bother waxing my vajayjay. If I did, it would be as if I’m expecting to get laid tonight, and I’m not. Tonight is going to be two people getting to know each other.

I feel like I’ve got the best of both worlds right now. Ghost is my newest friend and Cole is my hottie non-boyfriend.

After lunch, the girls cornered me to ask questions about tonight. Mimi starts with, “Who is this guy?”

I answer, “His name is Cole Lewis. He’s thirty-two and a personal trainer. A total hottie.”

Lola smiles. “Nice! Where’s he taking you?”

I shrug. “I’m not sure. He just asked for my address so I’ll find out when he comes to get me.”

Tina claps her hands together and loudly whispers, “He was a total hottie! Nik told me to stop staring but I couldn’t. He’s just…Wow! I hope it goes well tonight, hon.”

Mimi frowns as she clarifies, “You don’t know where you’re going with someone you just met?” She shakes her head vigorously. “No. Not happening. You text all of us where you’re going as soon as you find out.”

I move over to Meems, put an arm around her shoulder and try to soothe her doubts. “Hey, it’s okay. He doesn’t seem like a jerk or anything. Just the opposite, in fact.”

Mimi shrugs my arm off her shoulder and retorts, “Yeah, well we’re not taking any chances. Omarr didn’t look like a psychopath either, but he had no problem kidnapping Tina and putting matching bullets in her and Nik.” She looks me in the eye and says sternly, “Did you forget they almost died?”

My stomach dips.

No. I hadn’t.

I still see Tina’s small, limp body in that hospital bed. I find myself staring at the puckered scar under her collarbone and wondering what would have happened if she hadn’t made it.

A chill spreads through me.

It’s too horrific to imagine.

Tina places her hand on Mimi’s arm. I decide now is not the time to argue and give in. “Okay, I’ll text you all as soon as I find out where I’m going on my date.”

Mimi looks slightly mollified which pleases me.

I’m trying to work Ghost into a conversation. When I can’t find an in, I blurt out, “Ghost spent the day with me yesterday.”

All the girls still and blink at me as if I’d spoken another language.

Tina’s eyes widen. “No. Freakin’. Way.”

“And you’re just telling us now?” Mimi asks incredulously.

Lola claps and cheers. “Hooray! We’re all friends again!”

I breathe deep then explain what we spoke about on Saturday night and Ghost’s attempted burglary of my milk on Sunday morning. I tell them every small detail of our breakfast together, the vibrator conversation (which they all burst out laughing…some friends), the adventure to the grocery store and how we spent the evening watching TV together. Then I explained we have to watch TV at my place because he doesn’t have one and all three of them gasp loudly and stare in disbelief.

I know, right? Thank you!

Not owning a TV is weird. I knew it wasn’t just me that thought so.

Smiling, I play with a piece of paper on the counter and find myself admitting, “I had a really great time with him. He doesn’t talk without prompting, but I think I’m getting somewhere with him. He’s opening up to me.” I dip my chin and say a hushed, “I want to know him better.”

After a long silence, I lift my head to find Tina, Lola and Mimi all smiling sweetly at me.

Feeling awkward and exposed, I put on a big fake smile. “Can you guys help me find something to wear to my date?”

Tina and Lola jump up and down excitedly and Mimi’s face softens as she quietly responds, “Of course, doll.”

Phew. Quick save.

The girls did a great job with my outfit considering we had no idea where Cole was taking me on our date. They’ve dressed me in a black and white long, flowing maxi-dress, a black cardigan and lace up ballet flats. I’ve applied minimal makeup and wear my hair flowing down my back. I somehow manage to look sweet in this outfit which is precisely what I need. Tonight is not a sexy-look night.

Nervously tapping my foot, I check the time. 6:58pm.

He’ll be here any minute!

My stomach knots.

Could I have imagined how hot Cole is?

Ding Dong.

I mouth “Eeek!” to myself.

No time to think now, brain! Answer the damn door!

I mentally count to three then open the door. Okay, so I didn’t imagine how hot Cole is. Hot damn. He looks fantastic.

He’s dressed in jeans, a long sleeved tee and bright white sneakers. His black hair is in a spiked style and his blue eyes pop. I think I may have swallowed my tongue.

“Wow. You look beautiful, Nat.” Then he hands me a single pink rose.

Awww. He’s sweet!

Flashing him a brilliant smile, I lean in and kiss his cheek. “You look very handsome, Cole.” I step back. “I’ll just grab my purse then we can go.” I go to my room, check myself one last time, then grab my purse and head back to the front door. I stand in front of Cole and say, “We can go now. I’ll just lock up.”

Cole stops me with a gentle hand on my arm. He leans forward and gazes at me through hooded eyes then runs a finger down my cheek. “I’ve been waiting two nights for this. I don’t think I can wait a second longer.” His thumb passes slowly over my bottom lip.

My eyes flutter closed, I breathe deeply, and my middle tightens, causing me to flush.

I feel Cole’s nose lightly brush mine and he whispers, “I want to kiss you, sunshine.”

Without a moment’s thought, I close the short distance between us. I put my hand on his cheek and run my parted lips gently along his.

My core moistens. I ache for his kiss.

So much for going slow.

He breathes me in, his arm coils around my waist and he pulls me into him so we’re front to front.

We still haven’t kissed but this seems so much more intense than making out.

We’re playing with each other.

This is a dangerous game and I don’t know the rules.

I grab fistfuls of the front of his tee. “Stop playing with me. Do it, Cole,” I beg hoarsely.

❮❯