CPR training. Who knew two years ago if she would’ve agreed to go to the class, much less participate?

Tamar shook her head, knowing her parents would make it a bigger deal that she wanted it to be. No point telling them about it.  She couldn’t help feeling anxious about the whole thing, even if it only involved a lifeless plastic dummy. Tamar stared at her weary expression in the mirror and nodded. Pushing back a curly strand of hair from her face, she tugged on her jean suspenders before stepping out of the bathroom.

The lobby was already full of people, students from Covington University, waiting for the very early session. Her stomach plummeted in disappointment, having hoped for a crowd of people who knew nothing about her. Shaking off the strange feeling that they had now directed mocking glares at her, Tamar strode to an empty spot near the door.

She knew what they already thought of her; Muffet Malek being weird again. She was the white elephant in the room with her oversized dark denim pants held up by matching jean suspenders and a paisley top. Even her curly mop of hair pulled up in a loose bun atop her head and large glasses perched on her nose was reason for their open ridicule. To her surprise, none of them said a word. The class was full of females, equally drowsy from the early morning meeting but had managed to dress a little less casual than she.

Folding her arms across her chest, Tamar directed her attention to the closed door and waited for the instructor, a Mrs. Neilson, to welcome them in. One quick glance at the black chrome clock beside the door told her there was still a few minutes till eight. She would have to hold on just a little longer till Mrs. Neilson saved the day and her from the silent, heavy looks of her classmates.

Dylan shoved fingers through his already spiked brown hair. He’d dragged himself out of bed before eight for a reason other than football. The CPR class was necessary but he’d definitely planned for a later session. He could still hear his sister’s teasing voice. “All the smart girls will go early. This might be your only chance to get one to kiss you.” He smiled grudgingly at the memory, pushing the door open to the lobby. Despite Crystal’s smart words, he knew her suggestion to get it out of the way was a good one.

He ignored the excited gasps of surprise and giggles when he walked in, immediately ducking off to the side. It was too early for this. He scanned the room and smirked when his eyes landed on the girl a few feet away from him. Her glasses took up more than half of her face, her hair thrown up in a careless bun, no hint of makeup. A brow rose when he noted the suspenders.

Perfect. This girl had probably never watched sports a day in her life and almost certainly didn’t follow school sports. Nothing about her even hinted at the possibility of being interested. He slipped his hands into the pockets of his jeans and casually started in her direction, away from the cluster of tittering females to his left.

Tamar peeked over the top rim of her glasses at the sudden bout of loud whispering across the room and frowned when she realized they were looking her way. She’d spoken too soon. Folding her arms across her chest like a shield, she shifted her head to look elsewhere and suddenly blinked at the guy walking to her side of the room. Tamar held back an annoyed sigh and shifted closer to the wall to give him space. It was 8:05 am and still no instructor.

His lips quirked up as he watched her scoot closer to the wall as if to let him pass without touching her. He drew to a stop just inches away instead and leaned his back against the wall. It was too early to bother with women, playfully or otherwise, and yet he couldn’t resist. “I don’t bite on the first date.”

Tamar looked up and turned to the guy leaning against the wall, staring at her with gray eyes that danced with laughter. She raised a brow at him. ”Either you’re too drowsy to realize it or need glasses. I’m not who you think I am. Sorry, but I don’t know you.” She moved her eyes away, her cheeks tingling slightly.

Dylan laughed and turned to face her fully. He hadn’t expected the snappy response from the mouse-like girl before him. His interest was drawn against his will. “That’s too bad. You could always get to know me.”

Tamar swallowed a long-suffering sigh. Somehow she’d thought the only contact would only be with a mute dummy and Mrs. Neilson. ”What benefit would that be for me?” she asked, staring at the closed door, willing Mrs. Neilson to enter the room.

She was tolerating him, he realized in amusement. Her focus was clearly elsewhere, her words bordering on dismissive. “For starters, I can teach you how to let all that beautiful hair down and have a little fun.”

Tamar turned to face him, brow still raised inquisitively. ”Tell me. Did you come here for a CPR class or are you just bored?”

“Come on, no reason to pick on me. I’m just trying to help entertain you while you wait.”

Tamar managed a smile. ”Oh, no need to do me any favors. I’m fine.” Her eyes swept over the crowd watching them curiously and her lips thinned. ”But I’m sure any of those ladies will be happy to oblige you.” She turned away, shifting her shoulder as if to shield her from him.

He circled around her without hesitation, already knowing who she referenced. “Don’t be that way, pretty girl. We had a good conversation going here. I like to finish what I start.”

Tamar rolled her blue eyes at his glib words but before she could answer, the door opened and a middle-aged black woman dressed in plain teal-green scrubs stepped in. Tamar heaved a sigh of relief and stepped around him, crossing the room to meet Mrs. Neilson halfway. ”Good morning, Mrs. Neilson. My name is Tamar Malek. We talked yesterday…”

The woman smiled patiently at Tamar and dipped her head in acknowledgment. ”Yes, of course. Give me a minute while I get the others started and then I’ll get to you.”

”Sure,” Tamar replied easily and stepped aside to let Mrs. Neilson address the group.

”Sorry guys for my lateness. Baby daycare issues…” She held out her hands. ”Let’s get started. Pair up with someone and come to the mats, where I will distribute the tools you need before we start.”

Dylan could almost feel the women at his back. He didn’t waste time. He walked up and stood beside Tamar, a grin on his face. “Hey partner. Looks like we’ll get to finish that conversation.”

Tamar dragged her low-lidded stare to him. ”Sorry but I don’t need a partner. Besides, you seem to be in luck.” She gestured wordlessly to the girls doing several rounds of rock-paper-scissors across the room.

He refused to turn around, not wanting to know how the girls were determining who would get to be his partner. He had less than a minute to convince this girl to give in. “You wouldn’t be that mean to a man, would you?” She was smart. She looked smart. What would it take to convince her?  “I’ll make sure you’ve got this down so well, you’ll be flawless.”

Tamar blinked at him before glancing over at the girls. ”Must be hard being the minority in a class full of girls…” She mused aloud before looking back at his pleading grey eyes. ”But sorry. I already requested in advance to do my training solo. Why don’t you explain your case to her?”

”Oh Tamar, it’s no problem if you found a partner,” Mrs. Neilson chimed over her shoulder on her way to the storage closet where the dummies were being stored.

Tamar shook her head, eyes widening. ”It’s okay, Mrs. Neilson,” she called after her. ”Nothing’s changed.” Then she turned back to the guy, frowning slightly. ”Can you find someone else?”

“Thanks Mrs. Neilson!” Dylan said over her. “I told her you’d understand.” He looked down at her then. “I already found you.”

Tamar threw her eyes to the ceiling. Of all the girls he decided to stand next to, she’d been the unlucky one. She’d planned to do her assignment quietly and without interruptions, but now she would be forced to listen to someone else and have to stay here longer and away from her studio. She could already feel the free hours slipping away from her. ”Look, no offense but I’d already planned on doing this alone. By myself, just me and my dummy.”

He shrugged, wondering why she was fighting the idea so hard. He was used to girls flocking to him, not away from him. “Just pretend I’m your dummy. What’s the big deal? We’ll do this and get outta here. No problem.”

Tamar couldn’t help her cheeks flaming at his suggestion. ”Absolutely not,” she choked out in a laugh.

Mrs. Neilson suddenly walked up to them and thrust a plastic dummy in the young man’s arms. ”Looks like you two figured it out. Take the first mat on the first row.” She gave wide-eyed girl a gentle smile before moving to the next pair.

Tamar pinched the bridge of her nose. ”Oyy…”

“Let’s go, partner. I promise I’ll be the best you ever had.” Dylan couldn’t hide his grin when he turned and saw a girl heading toward him intercepted by the instructor before being turned in the other direction. Mission accomplished.

“I wouldn’t even know what that means…” Tamar muttered, trudging to their corner of the room. She perched on her knees, placing her hands on the mat.

“Guess I’ll have to show you.” He knelt down beside her, laying the dummy down on the mat in front of them before sinking back on his heels.

Tamar frowned lightly and parted her lips as if to ask him something but decided against it. She shook her head and turned to face the stiff dummy in front of them.

Mrs. Neilson made her way over to them, grinning down at the two. “Good. So which of you will start first?”

“I’ll go,” Tamar said quickly. Maybe if she finished quick enough, he would have no choice but to hurry and let them leave earlier than the others. “What do we do first?”

Mrs. Neilson smiled patiently. “Let’s get the others settled and I’ll give mass instructions.” She stepped away and Tamar sagged her shoulders. So much for being proactive. It seemed there was no point calling Mrs. Neilson to reserve a solo spot for her after all.

“What’s the hurry? Got a date after this?” Dylan asked, untucking his legs from underneath him to sit more comfortably. He drew one leg up and rested his arm on his knee, looking over at her.

“Do you know anything about CPR?” Tamar asked instead of answering his question, still staring at the mat.

“Is that a yes?” He, undaunted by her changing the subject, pressed on. “It’s still early. He’s rushin’ it, isn’t he?”

“I’m guessing you don’t then,” Tamar replied with a nod. “No problem.” She flexed her small fingers and poked the rubber abdomen of the dummy. “I’ll do most of the work and you just watch. It’ll go quicker that way.”

“Wow, he’s really pushing you.” He watched as she prodded the dummy. He chuckled. “I’ll just bow out to your expertise then. Wouldn’t want to make you late.”

Tamar didn’t reply. Let him think what he wanted. She wasn’t here to socialize.

”Okay guys,” Mrs. Neilson spoke over the chatter in the room. ”Let’s get started.”

”Finally…” Tamar breathed out, poising herself over the dummy, her attention completely focused on the instructor who started with the lesson of proper posture.

Dylan studied her as the instructor began hitting the important points of posture. His initial question had been playful but the longer she went without giving him an answer, the more he wanted to know. “So is it really a date?” he asked, pressing lightly against her back to correct her posture.

Tamar stiffened as his hand braced her back but she managed not to recoil away. Bracing her hands on the dummy’s chest, she threw a frown at the mat before them. “You don’t give up, do you?” Not really a question since he had yet to step away from her. “The only date I have is right here.”

He smiled and let his hand drop. “I knew you were my date. You didn’t have to play hard to get.”

She let out an incredulous laugh. “Don’t kid yourself. I was talking about the dummy. Besides I don’t date strangers, which you very much are one.”

“I already told you what you could do about that,” he reminded her. “Here, I’ll help you start. The name’s Dylan.”

Tamar merely blinked and returned her full attention to the dummy, tucking back an amused smile. “Well then, Dylan. Make yourself useful and try making your posture proper.” She shifted away and gestured to the dummy, her brows raised expectantly at him.

Laughing, he obediently made his way over to the dummy and leaned over it. “Yes ma’am. Are you still playing hard to get or am I going to get your name?”

“You had your chance to hear my name earlier. It’s not my fault you’re hard of hearing.” Tamar folded her arms across her chest. “Straighten your elbows.”

He glanced over his shoulder at her but straightened his elbows as ordered. “I thought you’d appreciate my being gentleman enough to ask myself, Tamar.”

Tamar could feel her cheeks warm as he said her name as if he’d been saying it all his life and she’d been hearing it from his lips all of hers. She twisted her mouth to clear the blush before he noticed and cleared her throat . “Widen your fingers over his abdomen.”

Again he followed her instructions and yet his attention remained on her. “So this is your only date, huh? Maybe we can work more on you getting to know me.”

She frowned at his insistence. “I’m already getting to know you enough, Dylan. Pay attention.”

Mrs. Neilson was pointing to a diagram on the board, relaying the next instruction of checking for the dummy’s pulse and breath.

“I like it when you say my name like that.” Why did that bossy tone of hers make him want to mess with her more? “I don’t think I get it. Why don’t you come help me?” he suggested.

Tamar narrowed her eyes at him. “You’re not exactly holding your end of the deal.” Then heaving a sigh, she shuffled to kneel beside him and nudged him to the side, so she could stand directly in front of the dummy. “Just watch me then,” Tamar said sternly, bending at the waist to hang her face over the dummy’s. “Wait for a few seconds, check for his breath.”

He laughed and let her push him aside. “You have to give me a chance to warm up, Tamar. Have a little faith.” He gave her his undivided attention, studying her more than her actions as she bent over the dummy. His gaze drifted down to her lips, drawing a frown when he realized what he was doing. She was dressed in a farmer’s outfit for goodness’ sake.

Tamar nodded and sat back on her heels, hands resting lightly on the dummy’s abdomen as Mrs. Neilson dished out the next set of instructions.

“Place the heel of your hand on the victim’s breastbone, that’s the sternum,” Mrs. Neilson said, strolling leisurely from one couple to the next. “It’s located right between the dummy’s nipples. Be careful not to press too hard or you’ll fracture rib bones.” She stopped in front of Tamar and her handsome partner, a smile tucked in one cheek. “Tamar, why don’t you let your partner try?” She turned to the young man, brows raised. “Even though you’re content to watching your partner all morning, everyone has to work in order to get credit, Mister…”

Dylan looked up and smiled. “Dylan,” he said, shying away from his last name. Tamar showed no sign of knowing who he was and he liked it that way. He wouldn’t chance ruining that now. “Of course Mrs. Neilson. I just find I learn better by watching first. Tamar’s an excellent example.”

Mrs. Neilson smirked. “Sure you are, Dylan…” She winked at Tamar before stepping over to assist another couple.

Tamar huffed a breath, lifting a stray curl that had escaped her bun and leaned forward again to demonstrate the instructions. “Are you watching?”

“I couldn’t look away,” he teased to mask the fact that he had indeed been distracted.

“Good,” Tamar replied easily and gestured him over. “Now you try and we can move to the next part.” She scooted away from the dummy, hands on her lap.

He settled in beside her and placed his hands as he’d seen her do, easing the heels of his hands into the dummy’s chest. “It’s about time you’re interested in getting to know me better,” he said casually without looking at her. “We can cover the next thing now. What do you want to know?”

Tamar wiped a hand over her brow. ”Neither curious nor interested… But since you asked. Why are you here?” Her eyes quickly scanned him from his gelled brown hair, his chiseled features, broad and strong shoulders and back to his face. He looked as though he belonged in a gym or track field instead of being stuck in a stuffy classroom surrounded by girls and plastic mannequins. ”The girls or the dummies?”

“You have to ask after seeing this dummy? Clearly you’re here for the wrong reason.” He shook his head at her in mock disappointment.

Tamar bit the inside of her cheek to keep from smiling. She had to give it to him, he had a quick wit. “My mistake…” She shook her head and straightened her face, staring down at the dummy before looking back up at him, now curious against her own will. “So what is it really?”

“Ahh, you are interested.” He grinned at her as he leaned down, imitating checking the mannequin’s breathing. “Applied physiology and kinesiology major. It looks bad if we don’t know what to do when our client can’t breathe. What’s a pretty girl like you doing wasting her morning in here?”

“Medicine,” she replied softly, sitting back on her heels. “We’re incompetent if our patients can’t breathe either. Malpractice, you know. Bad for business.”

Mrs. Neilson interrupted the chatter for the next step of instructions. “Next step is creating a CPR rhythm. I’m sure all of you know the song ‘Staying Alive’ correct? Pick a partner to sing the song while the other executes the rhythm.” She grinned when the girls giggled all over the room.

Tamar cleared her throat and quickly nudged at Dylan’s shoulder. “I’ll execute the rhythm,” she said, already poising her hands above the dummy’s chest.

“You’re not expecting me to argue, are you? This is one of my favorites.” Many nights he and Crystal had burst out in the song, a private minute between the two of them when staying alive wasn’t always as easy as it sounded. “Everybody is about to be jealous of you,” he promised with a wicked grin, pushing away the memories.

Tamar’s hands hesitated as she peered over her shoulder at him. “Jealous of me more than they are already? I doubt it. Wait, surely you don’t…” she paused, noting the mischief dancing in his eyes and pursed her lips. “No way.”

“Oh yes way. Go ahead, execute the rhythm,” he encouraged, his smile widening. “Ready?”

Her stomach tensed up. “No, I’m not ready… What are you about to do?”

“I’m singing the song,” he said and started doing just that, rocking his body to the music in his head. “You’re stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive. Feel the city breakin’ and everybody shakin’. I’m a-stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive.” The longer he sang, the more he got into it. His voice went higher, trying to hit the notes. “Ah, ah, ah, ah, stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive. Ah, ah, ah, ah, stayin’ alive.” He threw his head back and closed his eyes as he drew out the last word.

Tamar couldn’t help herself, she sputtered out a laugh, gaping at him as he carried on as if it was just the two of them in the room. What an interesting character he was. Obviously there would be no boring moment with him. She’d forgotten to even move her hands in place much less execute the rhythm to his singing. Lifting a hand, she covered her mouth and turned her head. The laugh died in her throat as she noticed the heated glares of females from every corner directed not at Dylan, but at her. Her smile waned instantly and she dropped her hands back to the dummy. “Try it again,” she said stiffly. “This time, with less dramatics.”

He opened one eye to peek at her and lowered his head when he caught her frown. “Seriously? That was the best rendition I’m sure you’ve ever heard and you want less dramatics? Where’s the appreciation, pretty girl? I gave you the perfect rhythm. I was in tune and everything…mostly.”

Tamar heaved a sigh, hands stilling. She could still feel the heat from their glares pointed at her, boring in her back. So much for a peaceful start to her day. Glancing up as Mrs. Neilson wandered over, she lowered her hands. “Mrs. Neilson, I think I might have to go early today. Can I make this up another time?”

Mrs. Neilson’s smile waned as she shifted her eyes from Tamar to Dylan and back to the girl again. “Oh? I thought you two were getting along well.”

“It’s not that,” Tamar muttered, cheeks warming under Mrs. Neilson’s perusal. “I just remembered I have somewhere else to be at this time.” She stood to her feet and straightened her oversized jeans, feeling the disgusted glares from the girls sitting around them.

“Oh, that’s too bad. But yeah, I have another class coming in tomorrow morning. Is that better?”

Tamar nodded, shoving her hands in her pockets. “I’ll call to make an appointment.” She turned to Dylan. “Guess you’ll have to fly solo after all, Sinatra.” With that, she stepped around Mrs. Neilson and strode out of the classroom, ignoring the disapproving snorts from the girls.

Mrs. Neilson shook her head after Tamar before turning back to Dylan with an amused grin. “Excellent singing, Dylan. Can you continue the rest of the session on your own or do you want to join another group?”

“Mrs. Neilson, Dylan can join us,” one of the girls near the front piped up, batting her lashes at Dylan as she arched her back at him. Thank goodness that unlikeable girl was finally out of sight and Dylan’s attention was no longer preoccupied.

Dylan’s gaze was still on the door Tamar had all but run out of moments earlier. She’d laughed at him, enjoyed the moment. He was almost certain of it. So what had sent her running? He looked back at Mrs. Neilson and just barely held a cringe when one of the girls spoke up. “I’ll finish it out on my own,” he murmured, wondering why it mattered that the frumpy but quick-witted girl had run off on him.

<<Introduction || Chapter 2>>