She’s perfect. Perfect everything. Long legs and curves. Her face is insane. Faces shouldn’t look like that. Bright, honey-colored eyes and skin like dusk. Her hair is so brown it’s nearly black. Thick, heavy, straight. She reminds me of something, of a feeling I don’t even know how to describe. And there’s something about her that’s made me stupid. Drunk, like I could just stare at her and be happy, float forever in this feeling. And then I realize, with a start, that I’m staring at her mouth again.
I never mean to. It just happens.
She’s always touching her mouth, tapping that damn diamond piercing under her lip, and I’m just dumb, my eyes following her every move. She’s standing in front of me with her arms crossed, running her thumb absently against the edge of her bottom lip, and I can’t stop staring. She startles, suddenly, when she realizes I’m looking. Drops her hands to her sides and blinks at me. I have no idea what she’s thinking.
“I asked you a question,” I say, but this time my voice comes out a little rough, a little too intense. I knew I should’ve kept my eyes on the wall.
Still, she only stares at me.
“All right. Forget it,” I say. “You keep begging me to talk, but the minute I ask you a question, you say nothing. That’s just great.”
I turn away again, reach for the door handle.
And then, still facing the door, I say:
“You know—I’m aware that I haven’t done a good job being smooth about this, and maybe I’ll never be that kind of guy. But I don’t think you should treat me like this, like I’m some idiot nothing, just because I don’t know how to be a douchebag.”
“What? Kenji, I don’t—”
“Stop,” I say, jerking away from her. She keeps touching my arm, touching me like she doesn’t even know she’s doing it. It’s driving me crazy. “Don’t do that.”
“Don’t do what?”
Finally, angrily, I spin around. I’m breathing hard, my chest rising and falling too fast. “Stop messing with me,” I say. “You don’t know me. You don’t know anything about me. You say you want to be my friend, but you talk to me like I’m an idiot. You touch me, constantly, like I’m a child, like you’re trying to comfort me, like you have no idea that I’m a grown-ass man who might feel something when you put your hands on me like that.” She tries to speak and I cut her off. “I don’t care what you think you know about me—or how stupid you think I am—but right now I’m exhausted, okay? I’m done. So if you want nice Kenji maybe you should check back in the morning, because right now all I’ve got is jack shit in the way of pleasantries.”
Nazeera looks frozen. Stunned. She stares at me, her lips slightly parted, and I’m thinking this is it, this is how I die, she’s going to pull out a knife and cut me open, rearrange my organs, put on a puppet show with my intestines. What a way to go.
But when she finally speaks, she doesn’t sound angry. She sounds a little out of breath.
“I don’t think you’re a child,” she says.
I have no idea what to say to that.
She takes a step forward, presses her hands flat against my torso, and I turn into a statue. Her hands seem to sear into my body, heat pressing between us, even through my shirt.
I feel like I might be dreaming.
She runs her hands up my chest and that simple motion feels so good I’m suddenly terrified. I feel magnetized to her, frozen in place. Afraid to wake up.
“What are you doing?” I whisper.
She’s still staring at my chest when she says, again, “I don’t think you’re a child.”
She lifts her head to meet my eyes, and a flash of feeling, hot and painful, shoots down my spine.
“And I don’t think you’re stupid,” she says.
I’m definitely stupid.
So stupid. I can’t even think right now.
“Okay,” I say stupidly. I don’t know what to do with my hands. I mean, I know what to do with my hands, I’m just worried that if I touch her she might laugh and then, probably, kill me.
She smiles then, smiles so big I feel my heart explode, make a mess inside my chest. “So you’re not going to make a move?” she says, still smiling. “I thought you liked me. I thought that’s what this whole thing was all about.”
“Like you?” I blink at her. “I don’t even know you.”
“Oh,” she says, and her smile disappears. She begins to pull away and she can’t meet my eyes and then, I don’t know what comes over me—
I grab her hand, open my bedroom door, and lock us both inside.
She kisses me first.
I have an out-of-body moment, like I can’t believe this is actually happening to me. I can’t understand what I did to make this possible, because according to my calculations I messed this up on a hundred different levels and, in fact, I was pretty sure she was pissed at me up until, like, five minutes ago.
And then I tell myself to shut up.
Her kiss is soft, her hands tentative against my chest, but I wrap my arms around her waist and kiss her, really kiss her, and then somehow we’re against the wall and her hands are around my neck and she parts her lips for me, sighs in my mouth, and that small sound of pleasure drives me crazy, floods my body with heat and desire so intense I can hardly stand.
We break apart, breathing hard, and I stare at her like an idiot, my brain still too numb to figure out exactly how I got here. Then again, who cares how I got here. I kiss her again and it nearly kills me. She feels so good, so soft. Perfect. She’s perfect, fits perfectly in my arms, like we were made for this, like we’ve done this a thousand times before, and she smells like shampoo, like something sweet. Perfume, maybe. I don’t know. Whatever it is, it’s in my head now. Killing brain cells.
When we break apart she looks different, her eyes darker, deeper. She turns away and when she turns back again she’s smiling at me and for a second I think we might both be thinking the same thing. But I’m wrong, of course, so wrong, because I was thinking about how I’m, like, the luckiest guy on the planet and she—
She puts her hand on my chest and says, softly:
“You’re really not my type.”
That knocks the wind out of me. I drop my arms from around her waist and take a sudden, uncertain step backward.
She cringes, covers her face with both hands. “I don’t—wow— I don’t mean you’re not my type.” She shakes her head, hard. “I just mean I don’t normally— I don’t usually do this.”
“Do what?” I say, still wounded.
“This,” she says, and gestures between us. “I don’t— I don’t, like, just go around kissing guys I barely know.”
“Okay.” I frown. “Do you want to leave?”
“No.” Her eyes widen.
“Then what do you want?”
“I don’t know,” she says, and her eyes go soft again. “I kind of just want to look at you for a minute. I meant what I said about your face,” she says, and smiles. “You have a great face.”
I go suddenly weak in the knees. I literally have to sit down. I walk over to my bed and collapse backward, my head hitting the pillow. It feels too good to be horizontal. If there weren’t a gorgeous woman in my room right now, I’d be asleep already.
“Just so you know, this is not a move,” I say, mostly to the ceiling. “I’m not trying to get you to sleep with me. I just literally had to lie down. Thank you for appreciating my face. I’ve always thought I had an underappreciated face.”
She laughs, hard, and sits next to me, teetering on the edge of the bed, near my arm. “You’re really not what I was expecting,” she says.
I peer at her. “What were you expecting?”
“I don’t know.” She shakes her head. Smiles at me. “I guess I wasn’t expecting to like you so much.”
My chest goes tight. Too tight. I force myself to sit up, to meet her eyes.
“Come here,” I say. “You’re too far away.”
She kicks off her boots and shifts closer, folding her legs up underneath her. She doesn’t say a word. Just stares at me. And then, carefully, she touches my face, the line of my jaw. My eyes close, my mind swimming with nonsense. I lean back, rest my head against the wall behind us. I know it doesn’t say much for my self-confidence that I’m so surprised this is happening, but I can’t help it.
I never thought I’d get this lucky.
“Kenji,” she says softly.
I open my eyes.
“I can’t be your girlfriend.”
I blink. Sit up a little. “Oh,” I say.
It hadn’t occurred to me until exactly this moment that I might even want something like that, but now that I’m thinking about it, I know that I do. A girlfriend is exactly what I want. I want a relationship. I want something real.
“It would never work, you know?” She tilts her head, looks at me like it’s obvious, like I know as well as she does why things would never work out between us. “We’re not—” She motions between our bodies to indicate something I don’t understand. “We’re so different, right? Plus, I don’t even live here.”