Another beautiful day and Tamar welcomed the cool breeze that nipped at the back of her bare legs as she jogged at a leisurely pace down the sloping hill. She’d been careful to stay close to campus, around people and not alone on a jogging trail, even if it was a more refreshing run that way.

Her eyes lifted to the blue-orange sky and the corner of her lips quirked up in an appreciative smile. Nature never ceased to amaze her with its breathtaking beauty. It reminded her that something other than chance and humans were in control and that put her at peace.

She rounded a cluster of newly-planted oak trees and slowed her pace as she came to a clear field, spotting a lone soccer goal just a few feet ahead. Tamar grinned wide, suddenly recalling days of the past and she quickened her pace, racing straight toward the goal.

“Malek moves, sidestepping an intercept from Franklin. She swings to the left, her foot never losing the ball,” Tamar recanted aloud, arms pumping at her side as her feet moved quickly, leading the invisible soccer ball. “The goal is in sight and Gaster looks nervous as Malek approaches. No hesitation and Malek shoots,” Tamar called out, pushing out her left leg to hit the invisible ball.

“She scores and the crowd goes wild!” Tamar skidded to a stop and lifted both hands in the air, triumphant of her moment. Then her eyes suddenly blurred at the sight of the empty goal, her hands falling to her side.

Dylan rounded the hill, pushing himself harder through the last stretch of his run. The field’s in sight, he told himself silently. One last push. His eyes narrowed as he got closer to the field and the lone figure racing toward the goal became more distinguishable.

His run slowed to a jog and a smile curved his lips. He pushed on, getting closer even as he watched Tamar’s imitation of a game winning goal. He’d just reached the edge of the field when she threw her hands up in victory.  His smile widened. Soccer? He’d never imagined she’d liked any kind of sport, much less played one.

He slowed to a stop and clapped softly, applauding her victory unaware of her teary eyes.

Tamar sucked in a sharp breath at the sound of an unwelcome audience and she ducked her head, quickly wiping her eyes. Then with a glance over her shoulder, she stiffened instantly at the sight of the guy from CPR class. Sinatra. Dylan. Her brow furrowed correcting the nickname in her mind. What was he doing here?

“You play?” he asked as he crossed the field toward her. Whatever had tugged at him during their first meeting seemed to be present now as well. What was it about her?

“No,” Tamar answered simply, eying him curiously as he approached her. She inadvertently took a step back.

He paused in his advance, frowning when she drew back. “You do remember me, don’t you Tamar?”

Her back stiffened as his voice saying her name sent shivers down her back. This wasn’t good. Tamar steeled her jaw, trying to play it cool. “Yeah sure. Sinatra. I remember you.”

He smiled then. “I knew you liked my performance. You owe me, you know? Disappearing on our first date like that.”

Tamar rolled her eyes, her shoulders loosening at his teasing voice. “Not this again.” She shifted her eyes back to his face. “Trust me, I did your fans a favor by leaving.” She sniffed, dragging her eyes to scan the empty field. “Besides, I had other plans.” With that said, she started walking past him toward the trail.

“And you’re doing it again.” He turned to follow her. “You were on a date with me and you didn’t do me any favors. It’s not a good look to have two dates back to back, pretty girl. You might hurt somebody’s feelings.”

“For Pete’s sake,” Tamar threw over her shoulder at him, quickening her pace. “There was no date then and there’s not one now.”

“So let’s fix that.” The words were out of his mouth before he could think about it. His long stride allowed him to catch up with her easily and he fell in step beside her.

“I’m hardly dressed nor prepared for one,” Tamar said without missing a beat, although her cheeks were stinging. She scowled down at his long legs and broke into a jog down the path.

He kicked up his steps, keeping pace with her. “You like to jog. Let’s jog. Keep it simple.”

Tamar stopped abruptly and turned to look straight into his face, her hands on her hips. “Look, I know what this is about.”

“You do? Good. Maybe you can explain it to me because I’m having trouble with it myself.”

“Gladly,” she countered, her lips tight. “Get a date with the weird girl from campus and save you from your boring routine. I get it. Maybe if I wasn’t that weird girl, I might shrug it off as not a big deal. Unfortunately, I am that weird girl and I’m not in the mood to be the subject of your spring project.”

Her blue eyes hardened at his face as she continued. “Now if you don’t mind stepping aside and leaving me alone, I’ll continue my jog and the rest of my day in peace. Why don’t you go find a more willing subject to ease your boredom, got it?”

Dylan couldn’t control it. He laughed. Not a polite chuckle, but an outright laugh. “Spring project? Wow, you definitely think highly of the whole thought process here. I’m not bored. My schedule is busier than it’s been for a long time. I don’t need to find a ‘weird girl’ to shake things up. Heck, I don’t have time for any girl. But when you show up, I seem to forget that.” He shoved a hand through his hair. “Get that, pretty girl, instead of that other crap you came up with.”

Tamar let out a scoff, shifting her eyes from his face. “Since you’re so busy, why don’t you get to it then? I’ll do the same.” She started walking again, lifting a hand to touch her flaming cheek. Get a grip! she told herself, quickening her pace.

He turned to follow her once more. “Would you stop running away for a minute? I’m not asking you to marry me.” He reached out to grab her hand.

She inhaled sharply as his fingers closed over her wrist and Tamar jerked to a stop. Her eyes widened as she stared down at his hand curled over hers, feeling her face fire up, shivers running down her spine. “Let go of me. Now,” she said calmly, glaring up at him.

He dropped his hand and pushed out a harsh breath. He’d never met a woman so difficult to get close to.

Tamar curved a hand over the spot he’d touched and her eyes softened on his face. “I don’t like people touching me… Sorry for sounding harsh.” She drew in a breath and released it slowly. “Fine.”

He raised a brow, surprised by the admission and her agreement to stay. “I’ll remember that. Look, all I’m saying is there’s nothing wrong with us grabbing something to eat.”

Her brow furrowed. “I said fine, I’ll go out with you. One date. That’s all. Then you move on to the next one. Understand?”

He blinked violently as her words registered. “Fine?” he echoed. He’d thought she was agreeing to hear him out, not a date. His face split into a wide grin and he instantly went into negotiation mode. “One date and we see where it goes from there,” he countered.

Tamar rolled her eyes. Give an inch, want a mile. “I already know where it’s gonna go from there. One date. Final offer.” She crossed her arms over her chest, tilting her stubborn chin at him.

“Why don’t you give me a chance to figure it out since you were wrong the first time? One date and we re-evaluate.”

“Going once… Going twice…”

“Anybody tell you you’re a tough one? I’ll take it.”

“Excellent choice,” Tamar said easily before turning on her heel. “Pick me up in front of the Underwood building tonight. 7pm. If you’re a minute late, date’s over.” She started her jog back up the hill, not waiting for his response.

“See you at seven!” He grinned as he started his own run back, mentally adjusting plans and preparing for their date.

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