AJ and I took the dogs for a walk along Lake Phalen today. The trees are leafing out, the sun was warm, and the air held the slightest chill, which made it comfortable for outdoor activity. We’d packed a picnic lunch and were carrying a blanket and looking for a nice place to sit for our meal.
“What about here?” AJ pointed to a grassy area near the pavilion, away from other visitors but still out in the sun.
I nodded, and we spread out the blanket and planted ourselves on it. I lay back with my arms behind my head, looking at the cloudless sky. “Do you miss New York at all?”
He remained sitting, legs splayed in front of him, leaning back with his elbows locked, lost in thought for a moment. “Sometimes. It’s too quiet here. And I haven’t found decent pizza yet. But the things I miss about New York don’t even compare to what I’d miss if I hadn’t moved.”
I shot him a look. “Yeah? All I can say is I’m glad you’re here.”
He shrugged. The hint of a frown crossed his features, but it was gone before I even realized it was there. “What are friends for?” he asked casually. A little too casually.
“What?” I knew him too well not to recognize when he was hiding something. He remained quiet long enough that I thought he was going to ignore me, but eventually, he spoke.
“Just something Connor said before he walked out. That you have me on a leash.” He shook his head as though trying to dislodge the thoughts by force. “Doesn’t matter. He was being an ass.”
I edged closer, until our bodies touched. “He was an ass. No way would you accept a leash. That’s one thing I like about you. You never put up with shit.”
Almost shyly, AJ looked down at me, an uncertain smile touching his lips. It spread into the more familiar wicked grin I was used to as he shifted to lay beside me on the blanket. “I just hate being told what to do. Or not do. Brings out my inner diva bitch.” He flipped a wrist with exaggerated femininity before settling his hand over mine between us.
Tension coiled in my gut. “AJ…do we really want to move this to the next level? Are we ready for it?”
Raising himself on his elbow, he turned to me, dropping my hand. “I know what I want,” he said slowly, squinting at me in the bright sunlight. “Maybe my timing still sucks with you just breaking up with JJ, but I don’t want to sit back and wait anymore, Fen. I don’t want to watch you fall for someone else so I can spend another lifetime biting my tongue and checking the way I look at you. I don’t want to find another Connor only to have to pretend I’m not thinking about you when I can’t sleep at night.” He plucked a blade of grass and stuck it in the corner of his mouth, looking toward the water. “I’ve already let too many chances slip away thinking I didn’t want to freak you out or scare you off by telling you how I feel. But you already knew, and you’re still here.”
I nodded slowly, gazing up at him. “The break-up with JJ was harsh and I’m still bleeding, but I agree. I think it’s our turn now.”
Scooting closer, he folded his hands atop my chest and rested his chin on them, studying me. “I don’t expect you to blink and JJ doesn’t hurt anymore. I just want a chance to see where we can go, so consider this me making a reservation. Put my name down in fucking Sharpie instead of pencil for whenever you’re ready.”
I grinned at him. “You’re on my dance card, babe.” I trailed a finger across his cheek. “Let’s eat.”