“You were always such a pain to me… even when I couldn’t get you out of my head,” Tahj confessed, his eyes searching hers. Then he leaned toward her, pausing when she moved her head back. He frowned lightly. “I know you don’t like me and—”

“That’s not true,” Laide said quickly, her heart racing violently now. Her cheeks warmed under his intense staring but she boldly stared back at him. “I do like you…”

“Laide,” Tahj said after she paused in speech and lowered her gaze to her hands.

“Hmm…”

When he didn’t speak, Laide lifted her eyes slowly and promptly swallowed a gasp to see his face just a few inches from her face. Without a word, she closed her eyes and tilted her head toward him. Tahj hid a smile and leaned closer, inclining his mouth over hers in a soft touch.

The throbbing temple and ankle forgotten, the two shifted closer to each other as Tahj’s right arm eased around Laide’s waist and steadied her against him. Laide swallowed a sigh as he then lifted his head and stared down at her.

Then her eyes widened and with a gasp, Laide nudged at his side, pushing herself away from him. “My God,” she whispered fiercely and dragged her eyes from his.

Tahj blinked, still dazed by the feel of her mouth against his. He frowned at her back now facing him. “Wait, what?” When she didn’t respond promptly, Tahj lifted a hand to her shoulder.

Laide flinched instantly, leaning further away from him. “I want to go home now, Tahj.”

The warm atmosphere swiftly died into a cold war in the black Echo 2000 as Tahj clenched his teeth and wrenched his hand away. “Fine.” He turned the ignition key, his car roaring to life. Awkward silence filled the car as Tahj kept his eyes on the road while Laide glued her gaze to the window, watching the buildings and lights zip by them.

Tahj slowed to a stop a few blocks from the street of Laide’s house. He risked a glance at her profile turned to him and shook his head. What had he been thinking? Parking at the side of the street by the mailbox, he turned off the engine and leaned back in the seat, annoyed that his mouth still tingled.

In the silence of the car, guilt poured on them as they sat next to each other, staring at the lights in Laide’s house. Tahj knew he couldn’t just let her leave the car without telling her what was on his mind, but what if she wouldn’t let him?

Steeling his thoughts, Tahj turned to address him but froze when he saw Laide staring back at him. The words hung on his tongue.

Laide smiled gently, causing his heart to do back-flips. “You have the longest lashes I’ve ever seen on an Indian boy.” And without permission, she lifted her hand to touch his face.

He grabbed her wrist and held it in front of his face, his eyes still on hers. “Addy…” he said in a whisper, his gaze searching hers for the truth he sought. When she playfully cocked a brow, he lifted her wrist and kissed it gently. Peeking up at her, Tahj almost lost his breath at the demure smile on her lips.

When he rounded the car to open the door to her side, Tahj couldn’t keep his eyes off her face. He eased her out of the car and waited, holding out one crutch at a time until she was secure on her own two feet.

Tahj peered down at the wrapped leg peeking from her long, gray cotton skirt and smirked. “I’ll still bug you until you tell me what caused that.”

Laide smiled gently. “We’ll see about that.” She nudged a crutch at his side and laughed when he pretended to wince. “Geek.”

“Dork.” He steadied her with a hand at her waist, gazing down at her.

“Moron…” her gaze challenged him and they both smiled in relief. It seemed the earlier tension had finally eased up since only teasing each other was the only way to make sense of their feelings for each other… for now, at least.

Smile waning at the time left with each other, Tahj lifted a hand to rub her cheek. “You can be such a pain, Dames.”

She chuckled good-naturedly, inclining her cheek into his open palm. “You’re not so great yourself, Karim.” With a saucy wink, she stepped around him and swung her legs between her crutches to make her way to the house.

“You sure you don’t need help?” he called after her.

“Nope, go home!” she called back, making it to the front of the house. Without turning to face him, she leaned against one crutch and waved over her shoulders at him.

Tahj smiled as she finally entered the house. “Goodnight Addy…” he said softly before turning to his car.

…the end for now…

<<Part 2>>

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