Decisive Moments – Chapter 6
When I walked into the kitchen the following morning and saw Connor sitting at the table, I had to fight not to turn around and run. Teagan had left earlier to catch up with his early morning study group, so I had no buffer. I was comfortable with the step that we had taken the previous night. But the thought of my brother knowing anything was mortifying. It didn’t help that every time I thought about what happened, my face reddened and my breath stuttered.
For the record, it wasn’t embarrassment that caused it.
That did not mean, however, that I wanted my older brother to know about my nocturnal activities. Given the way he’d reacted when he found us kissing in the kitchen, it wouldn’t go over well. Don’t get me wrong, I love Connor. We’d been getting along a lot better lately. But it didn’t change the fact that he was the biggest drama king in Florida. No, it was best that I try to act as much like nothing was different as possible.
I walked to the fridge and opened it, reached inside for a bottle of juice and took a deep breath to steady my nerves. I was conscious of Connor’s watching me and knew that some sort of acknowledgment was required of me. I would have rather had teeth pulled. My nerves were starting to fray and my hands began to shake ever so slightly. A glance toward Connor showed that he studied me closely, which did nothing for my nerves. A smile that probably resembled the Joker only served to get me a raised eyebrow in response.
“You okay, sis?” he asked me in concern. “You seem a little off.”
If only he knew how ‘off’ I was then. It was time to get it together! “I’m fine. It’s just one of those mornings.” I quickly walked over to the pantry and grabbed a breakfast bar. Starvation was going to have to be appeased with something that could be eaten on the run. The need to leave was real.
“Where is Teeg?”
The question had me freeze in my tracks. It was an unexpected question. I pulled a face in confusion as I turned to look at him. “What?”
He shot me a look of annoyance. “I asked where Teeg is this morning.”
Immediately suspicious, as Connor never worried about Teagan’s whereabouts before, I answered with a slow, “He went to school early.”
My brother studied me for a long moment before he gestured to the chair opposite of him. “Sit down, Ash. I wanna talk to you,” he ordered as he sat back in his seat.
I glanced at the clock and groaned when I saw that there was still plenty of time before class started. Rolling my eyes, I walked over, pulled out the chair and plopped down. My attention centered on him as my bag dropped to the floor loudly. “Yes?”
He curled his lips and tilted his head to gaze at me before he shook his head. He leaned forward and rested his forearms on the table and took a deep breath. It was obvious that he had something on his mind.
“So…” I prodded as I glanced down at the table and fidgeted.
He shot me a look, then a wry smile. “Sorry,” he said with a chuckle. “It’s just been a while since we really sat down and talked.” He paused rubbed the back of his neck and continued, “but I think it’s important this time, especially since Teeg isn’t around for once.”
My eyes shot to his and I frowned. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Connor held a hand out in an attempt to calm me down. “It’s not anything bad, okay? It’s just that… Well, I need to talk to you about things that I’d rather he not be around for.” He scrubbed a hand over his face in frustration. “This isn’t coming out right.”
Now I was starting to get annoyed. I waved him off. “Whatever. Just get to the point.”
He cleared his throat and looked away for a moment before he turned his attention back to me. “How are things between you two? Everything okay?”
I frowned at him in confusion. “Yeah, everything’s fine. Why?”
“It’s just I’m worried about you, sis,” he confessed. “He’s had a lot come out of nowhere lately and it’s all directly impacted both of you.”
I shook my head at him, not sure what he was getting at. “What are you talking about?”
“Look,” he sighed, “it came out of the blue, him having a kid. I get that, okay?” He paused and tugged on his ear before he continued. “That’s kind of a big thing, you know? I’d like to know how you’re holding up is all.”
It dawned on me then that he had no clue about last night and allowed myself to relax. I leaned forward and propped my chin on my hand. “Everything’s all right. I’m good.”
The intensity of my brother’s stare was overwhelming and the urge to bolt was getting harder to resist. I swallowed hard and forced myself to stay seated in my chair. It took everything within me, but my gaze stayed on his. I felt a sense of triumph when he looked away first. That was until he gave a wry chuckle.
“I almost believed that.”
My heart started to pound in my chest.
“Almost, but not quite.”
I licked my lips that had gone dry. “What do you mean?”
“Ash, it’s okay to be upset by all of it. You’re eighteen and the guy you’re dating suddenly has a kid… there’s no way you’re not freaking out,” he finished as he sat back in his seat. “So, why don’t we cut the shit and be honest.”
My jaw dropped open in shock. “Wait! Excuse me?”
“I know you, Ash. I know how you think.” He pointed at me with a knowing glint in his eye. “In fact, I can probably tell you what’s been going through your mind the last few days.”
I opened my mouth to dispute what he was saying, but he cut me off. “The first and foremost in your thought process is ‘did he love her.’ The next one is probably ‘do I measure up.’” He raised an eyebrow, daring me to argue. The flush spread across my face. He shook his head at me.
“Jesus, Ash! As much as I hate to say it, you seem to be it for Teeg. I don’t think anyone could compare as well for him.” He shifted in his chair. “I can’t believe I’m going to say this to my little sister, but you have definitely had an impact on him. One that is for the better,” he finished.
I sat back in surprise. I hadn’t expected that speech that was for certain. I didn’t know what to say in response. Connor noticed and smirked.
“Speechless from me saying something positive about you two?”
I nodded in a daze.
He chuckled softly. “You shouldn’t be. I’m not a complete dick.”
That one shook me out of my stupor and I snorted. “Yeah, okay. If you say so.” I might have added a heavy dose of sarcasm with that statement.
“At any rate,” he said as he stood from his seat, “despite what’s going on right now, you two seem happy. Teeg treats you good, I can see that. So as long as you’re okay with everything that’s happening, then I have your back. All right?”
I swallowed against the sudden lump in my throat and gave a jerky nod. This was the Connor I knew from when we were younger. As I stared at him, it became clear to me how much I had missed this Connor. At my silence, he gave me an odd look.
“Ash? Did you hear me?”
I inhaled deeply, cleared my throat and smiled. “Yeah. Yeah, I heard you, Conn. Thank you, it means a lot to me.” I got up and walked around the table and stood in front of him. He raised an eyebrow in question and before I could overthink it, I stepped forward and wrapped my arms around him. He froze, then slowly put his arms around me.
“What’s this for?”
I shrugged and said, “It’s for being an awesome brother some of the time.”
He laughed and moved back, dropping his arms. “Some of the time?” he repeated. I grinned up at him in response. He pointed at me with a smile. “I’ll have you know that I’m always awesome.”
I had to laugh at that one as I walked over and grabbed my school stuff. “If that’s what you need to tell yourself, go ahead,” I teased. I moved toward the doorway and I waved. “Gotta get to class! See you tonight?” He nodded in response…” Okay! Talk later!”
I left hearing him muttering about emotional females. Me? An emotional female? He had me so wrong!
* * * * *
Okay, maybe Connor was on to something when he muttered I was an emotional female. Some would say that I was overreacting. I, however, would disagree. And I was about a gnat’s breath away from throat punching the cause of my emotional turmoil. I glared at Ryan’s smirking face and felt an overwhelming desire to kick him in the shin.
“This isn’t happening to me,” I said in denial. I scowled when I saw his lips twitch as he struggled not to smile. “This isn’t funny!”
“On the contrary, this is hilarious,” he replied. He pointed at me and winked. “This is fate at work, sugar.”
I slammed my hands on my hips. “Don’t call me ‘sugar’!” I looked around the rapidly emptying lecture hall with a sense of panic. “And this isn’t fate at work. This is karma kicking me in the ass.”
He laughed and bent down to gather his books. “You know, most of the girls on campus would kill for this chance.”
“Yeah, well, I’m not most girls. One, I have a boyfriend and two, I’m not interested.” I paused and thought about the situation I found myself in. “There has to be a way out of this.”
“Nope. You’re stuck with me for the rest of the semester.” He picked up the papers from my desk and looked them over before he glanced at me. “Which one do you want to start with?”
I stared at him in disbelief. “You don’t actually think I’m going to do this with you, do you?”
“You don’t have much choice. Dr. Grochyov assigned us as partners for the rest of this class. He also said there would be no changes and no exceptions. So, which assignment do you want to do first?”
At that point, I hated everything Russian and I gave serious thought to withdrawing from the class. I’d had a bad feeling when the professor had started the lecture by saying that he’d decided to modify the syllabus to include several mandatory self-study activities. The list he’d passed out included attending a festival coming up, going to a Russian film and translating it, a couple of book reports and a handful of other things. It didn’t seem too bad until we were told that we were being paired up based on our seating arrangements.
Yes, people. That meant Ryan Caldwell was my assigned partner. Teagan was going to be thrilled.
“Look,” His voice broke my train of thought. “I’m actually not a bad guy once you get to know me.”
I raised an eyebrow at that statement.
“Seriously! Besides, I can introduce you to some more people, get you out some. Get you to experience the college life to its fullest.”
I let out a bark of laughter. “Uh, that’s okay. I’m doing just fine,” I told him as I started up the aisle to the hall exit. “I’m experiencing everything just fine.”
He scrambled after me. “Yeah? So why haven’t I seen you at any of the parties or events?”
“Because I’m not here for that,” I informed him. “Besides, Teagan and I go out all the time.”
I heard him snort and stopped, whirled to face him and narrowed my eyes. “What was that?” I demanded.
“Nothing,” he said with his hands up. “But I find it interesting that the dude that was one of the hardest partiers on the campus has no problem going cold turkey all of a sudden.” He twisted his lips into a fake smile and shrugged. “What do I know?”
With that, he moved around me and headed to the door. “I’ll see you tomorrow and we can figure out how to do the assignments.” He exited before I could respond.
I had to wonder if he knew what an impact his words had. Thoughts were now swirling through my head. The first and foremost one being, had Teagan changed his ways just to be with me? And if he had, did he now feel stifled?
That last question weighed heavy on my mind for the rest of the day.
* * * * *
Strong hands rested on my shoulders, pulling me out of the math homework I’d been concentrating on. I felt a kiss pressed to the top of my head and smiled. I glanced up and met the gray eyes gazing down at me. The blush was immediate as memories of the previous night came rushing back in force. My thoughts must have shown on my face because Teagan’s eyes darkened suddenly. He knelt down beside me on the floor where I’d been studying and pushed my book and papers aside. Before I could say anything, I was on my back as he hovered over me. I only had time to take a breath before his lips crashed into mine, robbing me of the ability to do more than feel.
And what a feeling it was.
Teagan might have been the only guy that I had ever kissed, but I knew beyond doubt that he was the best. When he kissed me, I felt it everywhere, from the top of my head to my toes. Thought processes were short-circuited and even breathing was hard to remember. I may have been inexperienced but even I knew that it wasn’t always like that.
My eyes fluttered open once he broke the kiss and rubbed his nose against mine. The smile he gave me caused my heart to flip flop in my chest. “Hey, beautiful. I missed you today.”
A giddy thrill rushed through me at his words. They always did that. Staring into his eyes, shyness swept over me and I glanced away. I wasn’t sure how to act now.
“Hey,” he whispered, “what’s wrong?”
I closed my eyes and shrugged. I didn’t know what to say to him. I wasn’t really sure what I was feeling and didn’t know how to explain that to him. I felt his finger under my chin and fought briefly against the pressure he applied to try and get me to look at him. I gave in and brought my gaze back to his. My heart paused at the worry that reflected in his eyes.
“Aislinn? What’s going on?” he asked as he searched my eyes for an answer. “Are you okay?”
I opened my mouth to tell him that everything was fine, but the words got stuck in my throat. A hard swallow didn’t help. My struggle must have shown because Teagan flashed a soft smile.
“I understand,” he said as he braced himself on a forearm and used his free hand to stroke my cheek. “I need you to answer something for me, all right?”
I nodded, nervous about what was coming and glanced away.
“Was last night too much for you, sweetheart?”
My eyes flew back to his in shock. “What? No! That’s… no! It’s nothing like that,” I exclaimed. “I just…” I blew out a frustrated sigh. “I just don’t know how to act now. What happened, what we did was amazing! But now I’m not sure what to do,” I admitted.
The silence that met my explanation was unnerving and I fidgeted under him. His hand moved from my face to curl behind my neck. My hands that had been on his shoulders came around to rest on his chest. Nervous, I played with the fabric of his shirt.
“Aislinn, look at me,” he ordered. I did so reluctantly. When he saw that he had my attention, he grinned and shook his head. “You make me crazy,” he stated.
I glowered at him.
“It’s okay, though. It happens to be something that I love about you.” He gave me quick kiss then continued. “Nothing’s changed, baby. We just took a natural step is all. It’s brought us closer.”
“How, though? I mean, you didn’t… you know…” I blurted out what had been on my mind since the night before.
Teagan chuckled. “Last night was about you. I’ll get my turn soon enough,” he stated. He then kissed me until I was breathless. Once he pulled back, he studied me for a moment. “There’s something else wrong, though. What’s going on?”
Sometimes it was a pain in the ass that he knew me so well. I huffed a breath as I tried to figure out how to tell my boyfriend about the latest development. I knew he wasn’t going to be happy. The decision to pull up my big girl panties and just get it over with was settled upon.
“Well, my Russian professor decided to change the class schedule,” I announced. “A complete rework, actually.”
He nodded in understanding. “Yeah, I hate when they do that. What did he change it to?”
“He took out some text book assignments and added in some self-study activities.” I paused and took a breath. “We’ve been assigned partners,” I told him.
He stiffened and narrowed his eyes. “Okay. So, who’s your partner?”
“Um…” I bit my lip and he started to shake his head.
“No. no way.” I nodded. “No! You’re fucking with me right now, right?” he begged.
I shook my head. “Ryan and I were paired up.”
“Jesus! There’s got to be a way you can get someone else.”
I shook my head again. “I can’t. Professor Grochyov said that the assignments were final and there were no exceptions.”
Teagan groaned and dropped his head to my chest and wrapped his arms around me. The feel of his weight as it settled on me was amazing and I wound my arms and legs around him. He peeked up at me and flashed a wry grin.
“All right,” he sighed. “I trust you, just be careful, okay?”
I nodded. I then watched in fascination as his eyes darkened and he pushed back up onto his forearms. His eyes ran over my face and then he gave a wolfish grin. I arched an eyebrow.
“You able to take a break from your homework for a little bit?”
I furrowed my brow in confusion. “Yeah. Why?”
“Because I know how we’re going to use that time,” he muttered. Before I could respond, his head lowered and his lips met mine once again.
I sighed into his kiss and tightened myself around him. I relaxed into his arms and let myself sink into the feelings he coaxed out of me. Sensing my yielding to him, he swept me up in a tide of sensations that left me as weak and trembling as the night before.
And loving every moment of it.