Chapter Nine

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I need to get myself back together, which means breathing normally again. While I figure out how to do this, I buy myself some time by pretending to find smoothing out my napkin absolutely fascinating.

"Did I say the wrong thing?" he asks, after a few seconds of silence.

"Hmm? No." I force myself to look up at him. I can tell he isn't convinced.

"You have the tiniest little frown on your face right now," he says.

"Oh. Really?" I hadn't noticed any muscles in my face moving. The tingling is making it hard to notice much of anything.

"Yeah. I don't think most people would have noticed it, but—" He stops and looks down at his plate, his cheeks turning the color of tomatoes. I sense we're headed straight back to small talk, so it may as well be me who starts it this time.

"Do you want the last slice of bread?" I ask. He looks up, but he's not looking at me.

"It's all yours."

Both of us decide at the same moment that it's a good time to look at the menu. It takes care of conversation for a couple of minutes, anyway. Once I decide on what I'm having, I fold the menu up and set it on the table, turning my head to look out at the courtyard. Streams of water shoot high up into the air from the fountain, the lights making the leaping water look almost like shooting stars. Talk about way too obviously romantic.

Our waiter comes to take our order almost the second Riley puts his menu down and then there we are, back to figuring out what to say. I think for a moment and then grab on to the first thing that comes to mind.

"Did your niece like the record?" His face brightens. I try not to sigh with relief.

"She told me I'm still her favorite uncle when she saw it," he says. It's not hard to tell this kid has him wrapped around her finger. She probably knows it, too. I kind of wish I knew what it was like to have a niece, but I never will.

Dinner gets easier after that, somehow, or at least it does if I'm going by the fact that I no longer want to shake him. He tells me about his job at his parents' recording studio, and about the first time he saw Lazy Monday play. Whenever the conversation turns to my life, I find a way to steer it back to him. Nice try, but there's no chance I'm going to tell him anything more than he already knows. He learned enough about me at lunch a few days ago.

After dinner, we walk through The Grove and the Farmers Market next door, until the shops and stalls start shutting down and we decide to leave. Our fingers brush by accident when we turn around to head back to his car, and for just a second, I think he might take my hand in his. The second passes, though, and he shoves his hands into his pockets. I fumble with my purse, pretending to look for a stick of gum. We walk the rest of the way to the parking garage with about a foot of space between us. Yup, we've gone straight back to awkward. Dates are never a good idea.

The radio saves us when Riley starts the car. The song playing is just begging for me to make fun of it.

"Folk?" I eye him as he pulls out of our parking spot. "Let's try a rock station, maybe?"

He smirks. "It's on a rock station."

"What, did the music director blow out his eardrums at too many real rock shows?"

"Banjos are the new guitar solo. What cave have you been living in?"

"One with much better stations than this." I lunge for the radio and change the station.

"Keep going," he warns me. "There's no dubstep allowed in this car."

"Yet you allow indie folk and call it rock." I pretend to sigh. "This is a sad day for our friendship."

"Guess I won't be giving you my extra ticket to Bon Iver." He turns out of the garage and onto the street.

"I have to wash my hair that night, anyway."

"You don't even know what night it is."

"It doesn't matter."

He grins, keeping his eyes on the road. I take the opportunity to study him from out of the corner of my eye while pretending to look at something on my phone. When I focus, I can see that our energy is joined together, which doesn't surprise me since I'm tingling again. Little golden sparkles light up the space where our energy meets. The sparkles get bigger and multiply, and the tingling feeling grows stronger. It's hard to think or speak, so I turn up the radio and we listen to the music blasting through the speakers for the rest of the drive.

I expect to say a quick goodbye in the car after we pull into my driveway, but Riley parks the car and gets out to come open my door. Ah, yes. The walk to the front porch. I know how this walk after a date used to end for me when I was Anna. I also know kissing the person I'm here to help is a really bad idea.

The logical part of my brain doesn't seem to be communicating with the rest of me, though. It's as though I'm under a spell as I put one foot in front of the other, feeling Riley's hand pressed against the small of my back. My body is going crazy with the tingling I feel. I must stumble, because he steadies me and we stop a few feet away from my front door. I find myself moving even closer to him, and for a moment, I'm not Cassidy. There's something familiar in the energy I feel. Riley's face blurs in front of me, and then there's the outline of a face I used to know well.

The outline I can see looks like David. The last time I stood in a driveway about to kiss someone, it was him. I want to say his name, but I can't move my lips. Then my vision clears and it's Riley in front of me again, his head bending down and his eyes holding mine. The energy pull between us is magnetic, and I hold my breath when his fingertips come up to my chin.

This can't happen. I try to tell myself that, but the rest of me isn't listening. My eyes close and every nerve in my body seems to hum as I wait for what's coming. I'm going to regret this kiss the second it happens. Then there's nothing, save for the stroke of a thumb tip across my cheek. My eyes open just in time to see Riley take a step back, his hand dropping to his side like he wasn't just mere seconds away from brushing my lips with his. He's standing so straight now, his arms so stiff, I almost think I imagined what just happened. I should be relieved, though. No, make that ecstatic. I can't say either feeling has hit me yet.

"Do you want to come in for a few minutes?" The words tumble from my mouth before I can stop them, and they don't feel like mine.

Riley's mouth curves into a small smile. There's an expression on his face I can't read, and I see him shake his head. "It's late. I think we should both get some sleep."

That's when I notice the tingling is fading. The energy around us has changed. I focus and see that Riley's energy is pulled in close around him. The colors are different now, and I can tell something has his guard up. That's a little weird. There's nothing to be afraid of here, since we're probably in the safest neighborhood in L.A.

"Okay," I say. "Goodnight, then?"

He touches my shoulder. His fingers rest there for no more than a second, but it's long enough for me to feel a tremor in his hand.

"Goodnight," he replies.

I should be grateful this is how the night is ending, because a goodnight kiss would be a mistake. Instead, I'm confused about his shaking fingers and about why his energy closes in even more tightly around him when he walks down the driveway to his car and gets inside.

I turn around before he can see me watching him and hurry to open the front door. I don't know if he's even out of the driveway yet when I close the door behind me and lean against it, feeling short of breath.

My legs crumple beneath me and I feel myself hit the floor. Everything goes black.

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