“It’s not the same.”
He hands the guy behind the register a hundred-dollar bill. “You need a sack?” the guy says.
Sagan says, “No, thanks,” and picks up the trophy and heads to the exit. Once we’re outside he turns around and hides the trophy behind his back like I didn’t just watch him buy it for me. “I have a surprise for you.”
I roll my eyes. “You’re so annoying.”
He laughs and hands me the trophy. I take it and then mutter, “Thank you.” I really am excited to have it, but I hate that he paid this much money for it. It makes me feel uncomfortable. I’m not used to getting gifts.
“You’re welcome,” he says. He throws his arm over my shoulders and says, “You hungry?”
I shrug. “I don’t really feel like eating. But I’ll sit with you if you’re hungry.”
He pulls me into a sandwich shop a few doors down from the antiques store. We walk to the register and he says, “I’ll take the lunch special. And two sugar cookies, please.” He looks at me. “What do you want to drink?”
“Two waters,” he says to the woman behind the register. He asks for them to go and then we take them across the street and sit at one of the tables next to the water fountain where we first kissed. It makes me wonder if he brought me here on purpose. I doubt he did.
The same question has crossed my mind many times, though. If he doesn’t see Honor as more than a friend, why did he kiss me at this fountain when he thought I was Honor? Because he definitely thought I was Honor. Not even the best actor in the world could have faked the confusion and shock when she called him on his cell phone.
I don’t ask him about it, though. Our conversation hasn’t veered in that direction and I’m not sure I can handle his answer right now. I’m too exhausted from the last twenty-four hours to add more heaviness to our conversation.
“Have you ever had one of their sugar cookies?” Sagan asks.
“Nope.” I take a sip of my water.
“It’ll change your life.” He hands me the cookie and I take a bite. And then another. It really is the best cookie I’ve ever eaten, but he exaggerated.
“When is the life change supposed to happen, exactly? Do I have to eat the whole cookie to get the results?”
Sagan narrows his eyes at me. “Smartass,” he says playfully.
I finish the cookie and watch as he takes a bite of his sandwich. My eyes are drawn to a new tattoo on his arm. It looks like GPS coordinates. I point to it. “Is that one new?”
He looks at his arm and nods. “Yeah, I did it last week.”
“What do you mean you did it?”
“I do my own tattoos.”
I tilt my head and inspect a couple more of his tattoos. “You did all of these?” I suddenly find them much more fascinating than I did prior to this knowledge. I want to know the meaning of all of them. Like why he has a tiny toaster on his wrist with one slice of bread. Or what “Your turn, Doctor” means. Or what the flag stands for. I point to the toaster. “What’s this one mean?”
He shrugs. “It’s just a toaster. It doesn’t mean anything.”
“What about this one?” I ask, pointing to the flag.
“It’s the Syrian Opposition flag.”
“What does that mean?”
He runs his thumb over the flag tattoo. “My father is from Syria. I guess I did it as a tribute to our heritage.”
“Is your father still alive?”
That question changes something in him. He shrugs and takes a drink, looking off to the right. It’s like a wall raises behind his eyelids when he doesn’t want to elaborate. Which is pretty much all the time. I respect his need for privacy about his family and I grab his arm and turn it over to look at the rest of the tattoos. “So some of them have meaning and some are just random?”
“Some of them are random. Most of them have meaning.”
I run my finger over the GPS coordinates. “This one has meaning. Is it where you were born?”
He grins and lifts his eyes, meeting mine. “Close to it.” The way he looks at me when he says that makes me too flustered to ask another question. I continue to inspect every tattoo on his arm, but I do it quietly. I even lift his shirt sleeve so I can look at the ones on his shoulder. He doesn’t seem to mind as long as I’m not asking invading questions about why he got each of them. “Are you right-handed? Is that why they’re only on your left arm?”
“Yeah. I’d rather practice on myself than someone else.”
“You can practice on me.”
“When you turn eighteen.”
I shove him in the shoulder. “Come on. That’s seven months away!”
“Tattoos are permanent. You need to give it more thought.”
“Says the guy with a toaster on his arm.”
He arches an eyebrow and it makes me laugh.
I immediately recognize how weird it feels to laugh after last night. I almost feel guilty—like it’s too soon. But I like that he forced me out of the house today. I feel a lot better than I would if I were holed up in my room all day and night like I’d planned to be.
He shakes his head. “I’m not giving you a tattoo. I’m only an apprentice right now.”
“What’s that mean?”
“On the days I don’t have school or work, I sometimes go to the local tattoo shop. They’re letting me learn the ropes.”
“Do you go to college in Commerce?”
He nods. “Yeah, three days a week. I work the days I’m not in school, and then I try to fit in the tattoo shop one or two nights a week.”
“Do you want to do tattoos as a career?”
He shrugs. “Nah. I have other plans for my future, but I enjoy it as a hobby.”
“What’s your major?”
“Double majoring in political science and Arabic.”
“Whoa. That sounds serious.”
He nods, tight-lipped. “Well, there are some serious things going on in the world right now. I kind of want to be a part of that.” The wall goes up again. It’s invisible, but somehow I see it every time.
I have so many questions. Like, Why is he majoring in Arabic? And political science? Does he want to work for the government? What serious things going on in the world does he want to be a part of? That’s the last thing I’d want to be a part of. This just proves how different he is from me. He’s already working toward his future, which sounds quite serious, and I still don’t even know if I’m going to return to high school next week.
I feel like such a . . . child.
Sagan finishes his cookie and then picks up my trophy and inspects it. “Why do you collect these?”
I shrug. “I don’t have any talents. Since I can’t win them on my own, I just collect other people’s awards when I have a shitty day.”
He runs his thumb over the small plaque on the front of the trophy. “Seventh place is hardly an award.”
I take the trophy from him and admire it. “I didn’t want this one for the title. I only wanted it because it was ridiculously expensive.”
Sagan smiles and grabs my free hand, pulling me up. “Come on. Let’s go to the bookstore.”
“There’s a bookstore here?”
He shoots me a crooked grin. “You know very little about the town you live in.”
“Technically, I don’t live in this town. I live fifteen miles from here.”
“You live in this county. It’s all the same.”
We walk down Main Street until we get to a small bookstore. When we walk inside, we’re greeted by a woman standing at a register, but she’s the only one in the store. It’s quiet, other than a soothing Lumineers song playing in the background. I’m shocked at how modern it looks on the inside. It didn’t have this much promise from the outside. The walls are purple, which is my favorite color. There are several bookshelves lining the wall full of books. The rest of the bookshelves are full of candles and merchandise.
“There aren’t that many books here,” I say, taking in the small space and the limited number of shelves.
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