Keeping my eyes peeled, I scan every alley and stoop along the street on my way to Madame Jermaine’s School of Dance. I hug my puffer jacket closer against the cold and am grateful for much more than the coffee warming my hand. It wasn’t that long ago that I was living on the street myself, and though I know I probably won’t ever convince Sam to take on a conventional lifestyle, given her beliefs, I still care for her deeply and wouldn’t want anything to happen to her.
“This isn’t your usual time slot Goldilocks,” she says, leaning against someone else’s front door. Looking me up and down, she nods in approval. “Looking good, Lex.”
Frowning at her, I rush up the steps and pull her into a hug, rubbing some warmth into her. “I wish I could say the same, but your lips are turning blue.”
“So you won’t kiss them, then?” she says as her body shivers against mine.
“Seriously?” Leaning back, I look at her sideways. “Are you drunk?” I ask, detecting a hint of alcohol on her breath as I hand her the hot coffee and bag of bagels.
“Maybe a little,” she says with a shrug. Holding up the cup, she gives a mock toast before taking a sip. “Ahh. Thanks.”
Shrugging out of my jacket, I drape it around her shoulders and taking the hat from my head, I pull it down on hers. “Why are you drunk at ten in the morning?”
“Keeps me warm. It’s what the Russians do. How come you’re here?” Sam asks, taking a bite of bagel. “Checking up on me?”
“Always. And Madame is sick, so I’m taking her junior classes today.” Studying her as she ravenously attacks the bagel and downs more coffee, I dig into my bag for some cash. Opening my wallet I pull out the notes and empty the change into my hand, before shoving it all in one of the jacket pockets.
“I don’t need your money, Lex.”
“You do. When did you last eat? And you need to get somewhere warm for winter. You’re welcome to stay with me anytime-”
“You know I don’t sleep indoors,” she says, cutting me off.
“I do, but the offer is always there.”
Her pale blue eyes regard me carefully. “Thought we were done living together?”
“Done sleeping together, Sam. Big difference. And just because I don’t want to do that, doesn’t mean I don’t care about you, or want you in my life.”
“Whatever. Move on. I have.”
“Oh. Good,” I utter, surprised by her harsh and abrupt tone. I know it hurt her when we ended things, but I wasn’t being honest with myself and she had to know it wouldn’t last - I was just hiding from the real issue. “I’m happy for you, Sam. Is she nice? Will she keep you warm this winter?”
“Here’s hoping.” Looking me over again, she sighs and runs a hand through her short, dark hair. “I miss you, Lex.”
“I’m sorry, Sam. That part of my life is over now. I’ve stopped lying to myself. I’m making a fresh start; trying to be something, one day.”
“You always have been something, Alexa,” she says, her tone stern. “You might realize it if you weren’t so serious all the time.” Sighing, probably because she knows my reasons for taking life so seriously, she shakes her head a little. “So you’re still into dick?” she asks with a smile.
“Yeah,” I reply, quietly. “Definitely a dick girl.”
“Pity,” she says with her cute, slightly crooked smile. Taking another huge bite of bagel, she studies me as she chews. I take the opportunity to do the same to her, taking note of any items she might need replaced. Her boots are looking too worn to last the season, but now that she has a hat and a warm jacket, she’ll manage for a few more days until I bring her some boots. Pleased to see some color coming back into her cheeks, I smile and give her a nod of approval as I pull her hat down a little more.
Following her bagel with another swig of coffee, Sam’s eyebrows draw together. “Saw Kyle last week.”
My blood runs cold and my heart kicks up a gear.
“Oh yeah?” I ask, trying to keep my voice from trembling.
With a sympathetic smile, she taps my elbow with hers. “Don’t worry. He’s still based in Niagara.”
A huge sigh of relief escapes me and I wince. I hate that he can still scare me so much.
“He was down here asking after you though,” she adds quietly.
Not good. Extreme opposite of good.
Croaking an answer, I try again and find my voice, strained as it may sound. “Did he learn anything?”
“Learned he wasn’t welcome,” Sam says with a smile and a wink. This time when she raises the coffee to her mouth, I see that her knuckles are slightly discolored from healing bruises. “Larry told him you’d moved on to New York City, destined for Broadway.” Laughing a little, she clears her throat. “I could totally see you on stage there instead of stripping here in Buffalo, Lex. You always loved those books, and operas and shit.”
Letting go of the breath I’m holding, I return Sam’s warm smile. “Thanks Sam. For everything. I’m sorry you’re still tangled up in my mess.” Sighing, I rub the worry from my forehead and try a smile. “Be sure to tell Larry I said ‘hi’ from the Big Apple, next time you see him.”
“Sure thing. What time’s your class?”
Checking my phone, I look several doors down to the sign above Madame’s studio. “Fifteen minutes, but I better open up and get the heaters blasting before parents start arriving with their little stars. Stay safe until I see you again?”
“Anything for you, babe. You keep yourself safe too. And stop giving away all your winter clothes,” she says, shuffling out of my jacket and holding it out for me.
“You keep it. I’ve got another. Bye Sam.”
“Bye gorgeous,” she says, kissing my cheek. “Ooh, and don’t look now, but there’s a guy just past your dance place that is definitely your type.”
Looking at her as if she’s gone loopy, I shake my head. “What type?”
“Tall, deadly and handsome. And in possession of dick.”
Laughing, I wave her off as I walk back down the steps to the sidewalk. “You don’t even like men. How do you know if one is handsome?”
“I appreciate all of God’s creatures,” Sam says, managing to sound offended. “I’ve seen this one around here before, and he even catches my eye, Lex. Maybe you should get his number.”
“How drunk are you?” I ask in all seriousness as I look down the street and pause.
Making the lights of his car flash as he locks it, is one tall, handsome dick owner. Dressed in sweatpants and a t-shirt, he looks set to work out, and his body tone suggests he might do that often. That, coupled with his height and something about the way he moves, makes him appear somewhat intimidating, but at the same time completely relaxed. A sports bag hangs over one shoulder and instead of wearing his jacket as one might expect on this cold Saturday morning, he has it draped over the box he’s carrying and doesn’t look in the least bit cold.
Hot is a much more fitting word to describe him.
His chestnut-brown hair is short enough to look masculine and tidy, but long enough to need swishing out of his eyes in a flawlessly tousled mess. Bearded, he wouldn’t look out of place in a flannel shirt with an ax over his shoulder, but again, it’s trimmed in a way that you know he’s well-maintained and not some wild hillbilly from the mountains. There is a slightly ginger tone to that beard that makes his whole face seem warm and inviting, and the sparkle in his eyes is visible even from this distance.
“That is a good looking man,” I whisper, looking away quickly as his eyes linger in our direction.
“Told ya,” Sam says with a quiet laugh. “His name’s Damon.”
Staring up at her, I narrow my eyes, wary of a setup. “You know him?”
Sam shrugs. “He lets me pick his wallet sometimes. I looked at his license.”
“What do you mean he lets you pick his wallet?” I demand, hoping she hasn’t gone back to stealing.
“His arms are usually full, so he asks me to get it out of his bag and help myself. The dude lets me take every note in there. Sometimes it’s over a hundred bucks. Feeds me and Larry for days.”
“And he doesn’t ask for anything in return?” I ask, eying her warily before looking back to the guy.
“Nah. He seems cool. You’d better get to class, Lex. Clock’s ticking.”
“Right. Catch ya later.” I flash her an over the shoulder smile before my eyes hone in on Damon again.
Definitely looking at me too, his friendly smile makes his eyes crinkle at the corners. He’s rather adorable. Before I even think about my response, I feel my cheeks warm as my lips curve easily into their own small grin.
“Good morning,” he says, again in a harmless, friendly kind of way as we near each other.
“Morning,” I reply politely, wondering where my volume has gone. Adjusting the dance bag on my shoulder, I clear my throat and fish the keys from my pocket as we pass each other.
Glancing over my shoulder to watch him again, I catch him looking back over his shoulder at me. My cheeks flame and I focus on fitting the big key into Madame’s chunky lock. Once it’s in and turned, I risk a quick peek, only to find Damon grinning at me over the box in his arms. Keeping his warm eyes on mine, he turns his back to the swinging doors of the next building and pushes through them, disappearing inside.
Looking to the sign above the door, I see it’s a fighting gym called Jake’s. Tall, handsome and potentially lethal.
Damn. That is my type.
Glancing down the street to where I left Sam, I see her smile, and wave before disappearing around the next corner.
Sighing, I shake my head at her and push inside Madame’s studio, rushing to turn off the alarm.