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Decisive Moments - Chapter 9

"Ash gets up one"

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"Now, what's a pretty girl like you doing in a dump like this?"

The question was so corny that I had no choice but to laugh. I looked up from the book I had been reading while eating my dinner to see Ryan gazing down at me. Seeing my amusement, he gave me a smug look.

"Well, had I known that cheesy pickup lines were the key to you not being hostile, I'd have used it a long time ago," he said. "I've built up quite the collection of them."

I rolled my eyes. "I'm sure you have," I muttered. My mouth parted in surprise when he suddenly pulled up the chair opposite me and dropped down into it. "By all means, please. Make yourself comfortable," I grumbled.

"Why, thank you, darlin'! I believe I will, " he drawled as he leaned forward and rested his forearms on the table.

I narrowed my eyes as I glowered at him. "I think we need to redefine sarcasm for you."

"No," he said with a cheeky grin. He reached over and snagged a chip from my plate. "I know sarcasm. I just choose to ignore yours," he replied before he popped the chip into his mouth.

I watched my chip disappear in his mouth in stunned silence. Then his words registered and I scowled at him. "I'm honored," I said dryly. I glanced around the campus snack bar and saw that it had emptied out while I had been eating and reading. I looked back at Ryan and cocked my head to the side as I studied him. He was wearing jeans and one of his trademark t-shirts. What stood out were the dark circles under his eyes and the exhaustion reflected in them. "Rough night?"

"Frat party last night." He reached for another chip and jumped when I swatted his hand away. "Hey! What was that for?"

"Get your own, mooch. These are mine." I informed him. I pointed at the slight red mark on his hand. "I learned from my mother. Next time, it'll be worse." I shot him a look to let him know I meant business. My chips weren't something to be messed with.

"Yeesh! Fine. Chips are off limits, got it." Then before I could react his hand shot forward and he grabbed the uneaten half of my sandwich. I gaped at him as he bit into it with a satisfied smile. "What?" he asked, his mouth full. "You didn't say anything about the sandwich," he pointed out.

I opened and closed my mouth several times as I tried to formulate an appropriately scathing response. The problem was that he had a point; I'd only said no chips. "Fine, you're right. So let me be clear: leave my food alone," I said, my tone firm.

"Okay, no problem." He agreed. It was much too easy an accommodation for him. I regarded him, suspiciously. It was when he inched forward that I caught on to his game. He yelped and snatched his hand back when I took my book and smacked the back of it. Before he could recover, I grabbed my soda and held it out of reach.

"My drinks are off limits, too," I warned him.

"Damn, woman! That hurt!" he whined as he rubbed the welt on his hand.

I eyed him. "I told you what would happen."

"I didn't think you'd get all violent about it!"

The look that met his statement should have frozen him in place. It didn't have any effect, however.

"This is a very dysfunctional relationship," he muttered. "I can't stay unless we get counseling. I'm sorry, but I won't be a part of such an abusive situation," he declared.

"Wait-! What-? I-?" I spluttered, at a loss as to what to say. It was then that I caught his sly grin and I narrowed my eyes at him. "You're an asshole," I grumbled.

His response was a chuckle as he rubbed the back of his neck. "You should have seen the look on your face!" He shook his head and grinned at me. "That was priceless."

"Jerk face."

"Oh, harsh words," he teased. "My feelings are hurt."

I growled in frustration. "God! You're as bad as my brother!" I pointed at him and scowled. "You better not try to dunk my head in the toilet, dammit!"

Ryan burst into laughter. "You have nothing to worry about there, sugar," he reassured me as he gasped for breath.

I snorted. I didn't think I had anything to worry about. I wasn't his sister. I could only imagine if I were, though.

"Anyway, if you're done being a pain in the ass food thief...?" I trailed off as I tried to convey the hint. I watched as he leaned back in his seat and continued to grin at me. I raised my eyebrows at him when he didn't show any signs of moving. When it became apparent that he wasn't going anywhere, I slumped back in my chair with frustrated defeat. ."What do you want?"

"I actually had wanted to see if you wanted to start on one of the assignments," he paused and shot me a grin. "But the chance to mess with you was too good to pass up."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," I mumbled as I waved him off. "Whatever." I sighed and brushed a hand through my hair, grimacing as my fingers tangled in the curls. The Florida humidity seemed to be working its evil wonders on my hair. Great, I probably resembled a Pomeranian with a bad perm. "Anyway, which assignment were you thinking?" I paused as a thought occurred to me. "Wait a second! How did you know I was even here?"

"I didn't," he responded as he pulled his bag up and placed it on the table. "I came in to get a drink and saw you sitting here by yourself." He rummaged through his bag until he pulled out a DVD case. "I've never seen someone so involved in a book as before. What are you reading anyway?"

I blushed and casually placed my hand on the cover. "Nothing you'd be interested in."

"Oh?" he asked with a raised eyebrow. "And why is that?"

The blush spread and I started to pull the book toward me "You just wouldn't find it interesting is all," I said, nonchalantly.

"Hmm, how would you know what I like to read and don't?"

This was a conversation that needed to end now. I didn't know how much more humiliation I could handle. I grabbed the book and went to shove it in my bag, but my fingers slipped off of it. The movement caused the novel to skid across the table and come to a stop in front of Ryan. As was human nature, he looked down to see what had landed in front of him. At his raised eyebrows and the slow grin stretching across his face, I wanted to die. 

He raised his eyes to mine with a wide grin. "My, my, Aislinn. What an interesting choice of reading material."

My face and neck went up in flames. I dropped my head to the table with a groan. I heard him pick the book up, knew he was reading the book cover and wanted to die. It was bad enough when Teagan caught me reading the trashy romance novels. The look on his face when he'd read one of the scenes had been priceless. But this? This was just humiliating.

"Huh... Cool," he said, as he set the book down and slid it back toward me. "I might have to go get that."

I lifted up my head enough to shoot him a confused look. "What?"

"Hell, yeah!" He gestured toward the paperback between us. "Do you know the pointers I could get from that?" he exclaimed.

I groaned and dropped my head back to the table with a solid thunk. Leave it to a guy. Most of them had one-track minds. Never mind that I was studiously ignoring the fact that my boyfriend had said almost the same thing. Men, yeesh!

"Okay," I said and cleared my throat. "You have a DVD there. It had better be about the class," I warned him as I attempted to change the subject.

Ryan quirked an eyebrow. "What else would it... ohhh..." he smirked at me. "Nah, Aislinn, I don't have any of those. I don't need them," he boasted.

There it was. That wonderful moment when my humiliation was complete. It seemed like a good time to cut my losses and leave while I had some dignity still intact. I stood up so quickly my chair skidded back. I gathered up my things without making eye contact.

"So, I figured we could watch this movie and then translate it," he said as calmly as if I weren't trying to get out of there like the place was on fire. "I made sure to get the one that doesn't have subtitles."

I looked at him in surprise. He'd actually put some honest effort into the suggestion. I held a hand out for the movie case, curious as to what he'd chosen. I glanced down at it after he held it out to me and gasped.

"Shit. You hate it." He ran a hand through his hair, agitated. "All right, no problem. I can see about something else," he told me.

"No!" I waved a hand at the case. "No, it's not that! I was just surprised is all. I've wanted to see this movie, but no one wanted to suffer through the subtitles. This is awesome!" I exclaimed with an excited smile.

"Yeah?"

"Hell yeah! Nightwatch looks badass! I love sci-fi and action movies. This is a great choice," I assured him.

He beamed at me and I had to giggle at the look on his face. "Want to meet tomorrow evening and we can watch it at my place?"

"Umm..." I shifted, uncomfortable. "I'm not sure that's a good idea, Ryan." With a sign, I glanced down at the movie; I really wanted to see it. But there was no way that I'd put myself in a situation where the campus gossips could have fodder. Suddenly an idea came to me.

"Hey! Why don't we watch it at my brother's house?"

He cocked an eyebrow at me and flashed a wry grin. "Your brother's place, huh?" He shook his head. "Am I that bad, sugar?"

"Look," I said, as I finished gathering everything up, "I'm not saying you're bad, okay?" I picked up my tray after I hefted my bag onto my shoulder. "But you're not good for my reputation, either. I don't want to put Teagan or myself in a position where people are saying things that aren't true. I hope you can understand that?" I finished with an apologetic smile. Had I not been looking directly at him, I would have missed the quick frown and the flash of something in his eyes.

He stood from his chair and slung his bag over his shoulder as well. "I get it. It's all right." He shoved his hands into his jeans pockets and stared at me in silence for a long moment. "So what time should I be at your brother's?"

I felt bad about the look I had seen on his face for that brief moment but refused to back down. This was the best way to do this. "How about Sunday around six or so?"

"That works," he agreed. "Just text me the address and I'll see you then." He gave a wave and turned to leave. He took a few steps, but halted and swung around to face me.

"I'm sorry," he said unexpectedly.

"Huh?" Great response, that one.

He did that odd smile again. "I'm sorry," he repeated.

"For that?" To say I was baffled would have been a gross understatement.

"For putting you in this situation," he explained. My eyes locked with his in surprise. My shock must have shown because amusement lurked in his brown eyes. "Yes Aislinn, I too, am able to display feelings."

I narrowed my eyes at him as I picked up on the teasing in his tone. He chuckled, and then his smile slowly fell away. "Seriously, I'm sorry. So we'll do this your way." With that, he walked away as I stood there in stupefied silence. I wasn't entirely sure what had just happened or what it meant.

* * * * *

I heard Teagan's phone ringing and called out to him where he was in the shower. "Your phone, baby!"

I heard something drop. Teagan cursed then he yelled back, "Grab it for me, please! It might be Blake."

I stretched across the bed and grabbed his phone, quickly swiping it to connect before the caller hung up. As I raised it up to my ear, my hair got caught on my hand and ended up with a mouthful of it. I frantically swiped at it to get it out while almost dropping the phone. Luckily I caught it just in time and was able to keep a grip on it.

"Hello?" I answered, now out of breath and still swiping strands of hair out of my face. When no one responded, I frowned and pulled the phone away to confirm that I hadn't missed the call. The quick look showed that I was connected to someone. "Hello?" I tried again.

"Who are you?" a woman's voice demanded.

I stiffened at the tone and my frown deepened. "I'm sorry? Who are you?" I responded.

"Is this Teagan's number?" the woman asked abruptly.

"Yes, it is."

"Then who are you?" she demanded again.

At this point, I was starting to get annoyed. "I'm not telling you that. Would you like to leave a message?" I should have gotten mad props for maintaining my cool.

"No, I want to know who you are."

Frustrated, I snapped out, "I'm his girlfriend."

The woman on the other end snorted, "Oh, yeah. That's right. I remember him mentioning something about you." Her tone was indifferent and dismissive at the same time. That clued me in that this was Teagan's ex. "Amber, right?" 

"Aislinn," I corrected blandly. Feeling bitchy, I responded with, "You must be Linda."

"It's Lauren," she informed me. Her icy, indignant tone had me smiling. Don't judge me; I'd take my victories where I could get them. Her next words wiped it right off my face. "I'm sure he's told you all about me, given how long we dated and all," she stated with a smug voice.

The problem that I ran into at that moment was that she knew I couldn't say I hadn't heard of her. It was that realization that made me see how immature we were being. I did, however; decide to get one last dig in. "Of course! Teagan tells me everything." I put heavy emphasis on the 'everything'.

Yes, I was peeing on my fire hydrant. There is no way that anyone else in my position wouldn't be doing the same thing. When you find someone like Teagan, you did what you had to do in order to stake your claim.

"Yes, I'm sure he does," she drawled. "Anyway, could you put Teeg on the phone, Ashley?"

I had ground my teeth before I reiterated that my name was not Ashley, but Aislinn. I knew that the conversation was about to go from catty to full-blown bitchy when I corrected her. It was time to go. Good fortune shined upon me when I heard the shower shut off.

"Hold on, Lydia. Let me go get Teagan for you. It sounds like he's out of the shower now." I told her. Yes, I found myself deliberately goading her. No, I didn't feel the least bad about it.

"My name is Lauren," she ground out.

"Oh, is it? My bad." I really didn't care. I scooted across the bed to stand up and get Teagan when I felt the phone being taken from my hand. I jumped before I realized that he was already in the bedroom. He smiled, shaking his head at me before he leaned down and gave me a quick kiss.

"Hey," he whispered as he held the phone away. "You know what I think?"

"What?"

"I think you don't feel bad at all," he teased.

I shrugged, unapologetic. She'd started it. I wasn't going to back down. He chuckled then gave me another quick kiss.

He straightened, cleared his throat and raised the phone to his ear. I could tell by the expression on his face that it was already going well. I scooted off the bed and stood up as I made to make my escape. Just as I took my first step, a steely grip landed around my waist. As I struggled to get away, I felt Teagan lean forward and press his lips against the sensitive spot under my ear. He followed it with a husky voiced "I love you, baby."

I beamed. Why, you ask, because my man said that shit loud enough to be heard over the phone.

Take that, Layla.

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