He opens the back door on the cab to let me get in first, shutting it behind him once he slides in next to me.
The cab pulls out of the lot.
“Oh, I should probably set a few ground rules before we do this.”
“Oh?” I turn at the waist and look at him curiously. “What kind of ground rules?”
“Well, number one: my car, my stereo; I’m sure I don’t need to elaborate on that.”
I roll my eyes. “So, basically you’re telling me I’m stuck with you in a car on a road trip and can only listen to classic rock?”
“Ah, it’ll grow on ya’.”
“It never grew on me when I was growing up and had to endure my parents listening to it.”
“Number two,” he says holding up two fingers and dismissing my argument altogether. “You have to do whatever I say.”
My head snaps back and my brows draw together harshly. “Huh? What the hell’s that supposed to mean?”
His smile gets bigger, crafty even.
“You said you trusted me, so trust me on this.”
“Well, you’re going to have to give me more than that. Really, no joke.”
He leans back against the seat and folds his hands between his long, splayed legs.
“I promise you I won’t ask you to do anything harmful, degrading, dangerous or unacceptable.”
“So basically, you won’t be asking me to suck your dick for five hundred dollars, or anything like that?”
Andrew throws his head back and laughs out loud. The cab driver shifts in the front seat. I notice his eyes veer away from the rearview mirror when I look up.
“No, definitely nothing like that—I swear.” He’s still sort of laughing.
“OK, but what would you ask me to do then?”
I’m totally leery of this whole idea. I still trust him, I admit, but I’m also a little terrified now in a worried-I’ll-wake-up-with-a-Sharpie-moustache sort of way.
He pats my thigh with his hand. “If it makes you feel better, you can tell me to screw off if you want to refuse anything, but I hope you won’t because I really want to show you how to live.”
Wow, that totally catches me off-guard. He’s serious; nothing humorous about those words and once again I find myself fascinated by him.
“How to live?”
“You ask too many damn questions.” He pats my thigh one more time and moves his hand back into his lap.
“Well, if you were on this side of the car, you’d be asking a lot of questions, too.”
My lips part halfway. “You are a very strange person, Andrew Parrish, but alright, I trust you.”
His smile becomes more warming as he lays his head against the seat looking over at me.
“Any more ground rules?” I ask.
He looks up in thought and chews on the inside of his mouth for a moment.
“Nope.” His head falls back to the side. “That’s about it.”
It’s my turn.
“Well I have a few ground rules of my own.”
He lifts his head with curiosity, but leaves his hands flat over his stomach with his strong fingers interlocked.
“Alright, shoot,” he says, grinning, prepared for anything I can throw at him, surely.
“Number one: under no circumstances will you be getting in my panties. Just because I’m friendly to you and am agreeing to—well, the craziest thing I’ve ever done—I’m giving you advance warning that I’m not going to be your next lay, or fall in love with you (he’s grinning from ear to ear right now and it’s very distracting) or anything like that. Is that understood?” I’m trying to be very serious about this. I really am. And I do mean what I said. But that stupid grin of his is sort of forcing me to smile and I hate him for it.
He crinkles his lips in thought. “Completely understood,” he agrees, though I feel there is a hidden meaning behind his words.
I nod. “Good.” I feel better that I made myself clear.
“What else?” he asks.
For a second I forgot about the other ground rule.
“Yeah so number two is: no Bad Company.”
He looks mildly mortified.
“What the hell kind of rule is that?”
“It’s just my rule,” I say, smirking. “You have a problem with it? You have all the other classic rock you can listen to and I’m not allowed to listen to anything I want, so I see nothing wrong with my tiny stipulation.” I hold my thumb and index finger a half inch apart to show how tiny.
“Well I don’t like that rule,” he grumbles. “Bad Company is a great band—why such a hater?”
He looks wounded. I find it cute.
I purse my lips. “Honestly?” I’m probably going to regret this.
“Well yeah, honestly,” he says, crossing his arms. “Out with it.”
“They sing too much about love. It’s cheesy.”
Andrew laughs out loud again and I’m starting to think the cab driver is really getting an earful with us in his car.
“Sounds like someone is bit-ter,” Andrew says and a deep grin warms his lips.
Yep, I regret it.
I look away from him because I can’t let him see anything in my face to confirm that he’s right on target with his assessment of me. At least where my cheating ex, Christian, is concerned. With him, it’s bitterness. With Ian, it’s cruel, unadulterated pain.
“Well, we’ll fix that, too,” he says nonchalantly.
I look back over.
“Ummm, well thanks Dr. Phil, but I don’t need help with that sort of thing.”
Wait a damn minute! Who ever said I needed to be ‘fixed’ at all?
“Oh?” He tilts his chin, looking curious.
“Yeah,” I say. “Besides, that would sort of break my ground rule number one.”
He blinks and smiles. “Oh, you automatically assume I was going to offer myself up as the guinea pig?” His shoulders bounce with gentle laughter.
I try not to look offended. Not sure if it’s working all that well, so I use a different tactic:
“Well, I would hope not,” I say, batting my eyes. “You’re not my type.”
Oh yeah, ball’s in my court again; I think he actually flinched!
“And just what’s wrong with me?” he asks, but I’m totally not buying anymore that my comment really hurt him. People don’t normally smile after they’ve been offended.
I turn around the whole way, pressing my back against the cab door and look him up and down. I’d be lying my ass off if I said I don’t like what I see. I haven’t found anything yet that doesn’t make him my type. In fact, if it weren’t for me not being into sex or dating or relationships or love, Andrew Parrish is the kind of guy that I would totally go for and who Natalie would openly drool over.
She would wear him across her boobs.
“There’s nothing ‘wrong’ with you,” I say. “I just tend to end up with the…tame types.”
For the third time, Andrew’s head falls back into laughter.
“Tame?” he says, still laughing. He nods a few times and adds, “Yeah, I guess you’re right in saying I’m not exactly the tame type.” He holds up his finger as if to make a point. “But what interests me more about what you said is that you ‘end up’ with them—what do you think that means?”
How did the ball even get back in his court? I never saw him coming.
I look to him for the answer, even though he’s the one who asked the question. He’s still smiling, but there’s something much softer and perceptive in it this time, rather than the usual jest.
He doesn’t say anything.
“I-I don’t know,” I say distantly and then look right at him. “Why does that have to mean anything anyway?”
He shakes his head subtly, but just looks out in front of him as the cab pulls into the parking lot near the bus station. Andrew’s dad’s 1969 Chevy Chevelle is the only car left in the lot. They must really be into that whole vintage car thing.
Andrew pays the driver and we get out.
“Have a good night, man,” he says, waving as the driver pulls away.
I end up riding to Andrew’s dad’s house mostly in a contemplative quiet, thinking about what he said, but then I let it go when we pull into the driveway of his dad’s immaculate house.
“Whoa,” I say with parted lips as I step out of the car. “That’s a lot of house.”
His door shuts. “Yeah, my dad owns a successful construction and design company,” he says nonchalantly. “Come on, I don’t want to spend too much time here in case Aidan shows up.”
I walk alongside him down the curved, landscaped walkway leading to the front door of the three-story house. It’s such a rich, immaculate place I just can’t see his particular father living in it. His father just seems more of a simple kind of man and not one to be as materialistic as my mother.
Mom would faint in something like this.
Andrew thumbs through his keys and pushes the right one into the door lock.
It clicks open.
“Not to be nosey, but why would your dad want to live in a house this big?”
The foyer smells like cinnamon potpourri.
“Nah, this was his ex-wife’s doing, not his.” I follow him straight to the white-carpeted staircase. “She was a nice woman—Linda, the woman he mentioned at the hospital—but she couldn’t deal with Dad and I can’t blame her.”
“I thought you were going to tell me she married him for his money.”
Andrew shakes his head as he leads me up the stairs.
“No, it was nothing like that—my dad is just a difficult man to live with.” He slips his keys down into his front right jeans pocket.
I steal a quick glance of his butt in those jeans as he pads up the stairs in front of me. I bite my bottom lip and then mentally kick myself.
“This is my room.” We enter the first bedroom on the left. It’s fairly empty; looks more like a storage room with a few boxes piled neatly against one taupe-colored wall, some exercise equipment and a weird-looking Native American statue pushed into the far corner and partially wrapped in plastic. Andrew moves across the space to the walk-in closet and flips a light switch inside. I stay near the center of the room, arms crossed, looking around and trying to not to look like I’m snooping.
“You say ‘is’ your room?”
“Yeah,” he says from inside the closet, “for when I visit, or if I ever want to live here.”
I walk closer to the closet to see him sifting through clothes hanging much how I hang mine.
“You’re OCD, too, I see.”
He looks at me questioningly.
I point to the clothes hung by color and on matching black plastic hangers.
“Oh, no, definitely not,” he clarifies. “Dad’s housekeeper comes in here and does this shit. I could care less that my clothes are hung up at all, much less by color—that’s too…wait—.” He pulls away from the shirts and looks at me in a sidelong glance. “You do this to your clothes?” He points his finger horizontally at the shirts and moves it back and forth.