Golden Blood (7 page)

Her breath caught. She wanted to scream a
loud “yes, let’s do that every night!” but fear dictated her
response.

“I… I can’t.”

“Why not?”

She shook her head.

“We don’t have to go to the beach. We could
go to another movie, one we don’t have to read.”

A smile jumped over her lips, but quickly
fell away. “I’m not allowed to date.”

“Really?” He clicked his tongue and ran a
finger along the edge of the shelf. “Well, maybe I could call your
parents and ask their permission.”

“What? No! Please, don’t. Just, you… you
don’t understand. I need…” She winced and shook her head, hating
what she was about to say. “I need you to leave me alone.”

“I can’t.”

“Why?”

He shrugged and spread his hands as if
helpless to know.

“Harrison.” She sighed and licked her lips,
fighting for control of her hurricane emotions. “People don’t like
me for a reason. I don’t make a good friend. You could have any
girl at this school. I could name-”

“I want you.”

Her mouth went dry. Hearing those three
little words, said with such pained honesty, brought the hope of
life and the fear of death all in the same heart beat. He wanted
her? He actually wanted her? No one
ever
felt that way.

Her chest fluttered. With a happy chirp, hope
found a perch in her soul. Gemma bit back the smile playing on her
lips as Harrison continued his sales pitch.

“We don’t have to call it a date. We could
just bump into each other again.”

Gemma looked him straight in the eye. Dana
and Chelsea’s prattle from the bathroom that had been hounding her
all day slipped away.

He wants me.

“It doesn’t have to be a big deal. I just had
fun the other night.” He shrugged. “I want to do it again.”

She smiled. Fun. Nice, casual fun.

I can do that.

After a little lip nibbling, she grinned. “I
was thinking of going to the movies on Saturday.”

“Really?” Harrison grinned. “Me too. I
thought I’d have dinner at Antonio’s first, around six.”

She wasn’t sure what power was controlling
her, but her head bobbed up and down.

“I guess I’ll see you around then.”

Gemma’s head kept bobbing. His grin broadened
as he edged past her.

“Enjoy your book, Gemma.”

She turned and watched him saunter out of
sight. The light feeling from the morning returned, but she knew it
would be fleeting. Before long her brain would kick in with all the
reasons why she shouldn’t be doing this. She just hoped, come
Saturday, her brain would be in the right mode to get her to
Antonio’s.

 

 

Chapter Six

Ponte Vedra Beach,
Florida - 2011AD

 

Gemma ruffled her long hair and huffed.
Snatching her brush from the bathroom counter, she pulled her hair
back into a ponytail for the fourth time, checked her reflection
for the eighteenth time and nodded. That would have to do.

Or maybe I should just…

Pulling out her hair tie, she ran her fingers
through her freed locks. Ruffling and adjusting, she fidgeted for
another few moments until it sat straight and long over her
shoulders. That would have to do.

Or…

“Stop this, Gemma!” Leaning towards the
mirror, she ran her pinky over her glossy lips and frowned. “I
don’t know if I can do this.”

Of course you can, you big chicken!

Pulling back from her reflection, she closed
her eyes and willed whatever nerves she had left to fall in line.
She was going to meet Harrison tonight whether she wanted to or
not!

Drawing in a deep breath, she ran her hands
over her cotton shirt and tugged the hem to make sure it sat right.
She ignored the urge to chew her lip as she inspected her final
choice of attire. Ruby had wanted to “help” her get ready tonight,
but Gemma had refused after being offered a variety of garments she
wouldn’t be caught dead in. Much to Ruby’s chagrin, Gemma had
settled on a pair of dark jeans, her white button down shirt with
the large collar and her thick black belt. As a way of shutting her
sister up, she had consented to some light make up. The end result
was satisfying, but did nothing to calm the butterflies feasting on
her stomach.

She’d be surprised if she had a stomach left
after the evening. What to wear was the least of her problems.
Getting out of the house without setting off alarm bells was the
next hurdle and she had no idea how she was going to do it.
Glancing at her reflection one last time, she hastily tied back her
hair in its standard ponytail and left before making any more
changes.

Gemma kept her steps light and innocent as
she entered the kitchen. She was sure her mother would see straight
through her pathetic attempt at casualness.

“What’s up with you?” Her mother’s eyebrow
rose.

“Nothing.” Gemma drummed her fingers on the
counter.

“You look as if you’re dressed to go
out.”

“Well… I am.” Gemma’s teeth jumped for the
inside of her cheek.

Penelope’s eyes narrowed. A small smile
danced across her lips.

“Where?”

“To dinner.”

“By yourself?”

“No.” Gemma swallowed. “I’m… well, I… I’m
going to… with a friend.”

“You have a friend?!?”

A loud noise exploded from the corner of the
room. Both women turned to look at Dominic who was quickly hunting
for a cloth, having sprayed his mouthful of drink over most of the
floor. His shoulders shook with mirth. Gemma shot him a dagger
stare. He countered with a charming wink.

Ignoring her son’s vulgar display, Penelope
turned back to her youngest with narrowed eyes.

“Gemma, what’s going on?”

“Well… I took your advice and I… I’ve made a
friend.”

“Really?” Penelope’s surprised smile made
Gemma blush.

“Yeah, I mean, it’s just recent, but…”

“Sweetheart, I’m proud of you.”

Gemma returned her mother’s smile before
feeling her insides turn to Jell-O.

“Well, tell me about her. What’s her
name?”

Gemma licked her lips slowly and looked at
the floor.

How am I supposed to tell her it’s a
him?

She saw the scene play out in slow motion.
Her mother’s smile would slide from her face, her brows would
crease, then by some form of magic she’d suddenly be wearing a
Gestapo uniform and pacing the kitchen with a horse whip in her
hand, slapping it against her palm as she interrogated her
daughter.

Gulping down her fear she tried to think of
what Ruby always said.


It’s not a date, Mom. I don’t even like
him that way. It’s just a bunch of us going to the movies.”

That excuse worked for Ruby because she
defined popularity. She was pretty, teasingly evasive and could
turn any situation into a party. Everyone at school liked her.

Gemma cringed. Her mother would never buy an
excuse like Ruby’s from her. It was a miracle in itself that even
one person was insane enough to invite her out for an evening!

“Um…” Gemma inspected her boots.

“Are you talking about Courtney?” Ruby
bounced through the archway.

Gemma’s head shot up with a grateful
smile.

“Courtney?”

“Yeah, Mom, Courtney Taylor. She’s a
sweetheart.” Ruby frowned at Dom’s clean up attempts before
stepping over him and heading for the fridge.

Gemma’s insides stopped dancing as she
watched her mother beam.

“Yeah, she is really nice.”

“Good girl, Gem. So what are you two up to
tonight?”

“Um…”

“You guys should go check out that new movie
I was telling you about. Courtney seemed pretty keen.” Ruby
unscrewed the lid of her bottled water.

“Yeah,” Gemma pasted on a quick smile. “We’ll
probably do that and maybe grab some dinner?” She spotted Ruby’s
thumbs up from behind her mother’s back.

“That sounds nice.” Penelope squeezed Gemma’s
shoulder and smiled. “I’m proud of you for being brave,
sweetie.”

“Thanks.” She couldn’t quite keep her smile
in place. Thankfully her mother didn’t notice. Instead she placed a
quick peck on her cheek.

“Now remember, keep conversation light and
shallow. As soon as you feel it heading in the wrong direction ask
her a question about herself. Keep her talking as much as you
can.”

“I will, Mom.”

Gemma waved her family goodbye and headed for
the garage. The dancing butterflies started up again at the idea of
meeting Harrison. Underneath their playful fluttering, a thick stew
began to bubble. She had just lied to her mother. Sure, it wasn’t
her fault that her mother had assumed her friend was a girl and it
wasn’t her fault that Ruby had jumped in with the world’s best
excuse. Either way she had given her mother the wrong impression
and her mother had believed her. It felt so wrong, yet she knew if
she’d told the truth she wouldn’t be heading south for the evening.
If her mother knew the truth she would probably be buying a dead
bolt for her daughter’s bedroom door.

 

* * * *

 

Harrison hitched up his jeans and pulled his
jacket straight as he walked towards the small Italian restaurant.
He was surprised by how nervous he felt. Gemma had been skirting
him in the hallways all week. Some days she’d give him a timid
smile, other days her back would stiffen and she’d walk past him
like a robot. Yesterday had been one of those days and he was
doubtful she’d show tonight. He had wanted to text and confirm, but
he didn’t have her number.

Ignoring the brewing disappointment, he
paused at the door to prepare himself and was surprised to find it
pulled away from him.

“Oh.” Gemma stood bug eyed in the doorway.
“I… you are here.”

She looked ready to go into cardiac arrest.
The nerves were pulsating from her like a tidal wave. An easy smile
stretched across his lips.

“You look pretty.”

Her blush was fierce and she ran a hand down
her ponytail. It’s not that she’d done anything extra special, he
just couldn’t help saying it. It was the truth after all.

“Shall we?” He stepped into her space,
forcing her to turn and re-enter the restaurant. There was no way
he was going to let her flee now that she had actually shown
up.

He placed his hand on the small of her back
as they were led to a corner booth at the back of the restaurant.
Harrison smiled at Gemma as they slid in opposite each other. Out
of habit, he turned to survey his surroundings.

The tablecloths were checkered red and white
with low candles as centerpieces. A family of five was two booths
away laughing over their meal. An old couple that looked as though
they dined there regularly was settled comfortably into an intimate
conversation. The waiters flittered around the crowded room serving
meals with smiles that begged for good tips. It was a welcoming
family atmosphere.

“I’ve never been in here before. It’s nice
and cozy.”

Harrison grinned. “That’s why my mom loves it
so much.”

Her smile was brief then lost behind the menu
card. Harrison stayed quiet in order to let her choose. He always
got the same thing when he came here so didn’t bother opening his
menu.

The young male waiter took their order with a
cheerful smile and trotted off to deliver it.

Harrison leaned back in his chair with
narrowed eyes.

“You’re not one of those girls who lives on
carrot sticks and low fat cottage cheese are you?”

She smiled. “I’m afraid so.”

“But why? You’re skinny… in a good way. You
don’t need to count your calories.”

Her teeth grabbed her lip as she fiddled with
her cutlery. “It’s not that. I’m not allowed to eat junk food.”

His brow wrinkled with amused confusion as he
leaned on the table.

“My mother’s really into nutrition. She’s a
doctor scientist person and spends all day studying diseases and
genetics and stuff. She keeps harping on about how a lot of illness
can be controlled by diet. Food is fuel. Her motto is, the better
the fuel, the better the engine will run.” Gemma shrugged. “It’s a
car analogy.”

His smile grew as he watched her throughout
the explanation. The way her nose twitched, the way her long
fingers fidgeted with the fork then abruptly stopped to smooth out
the tablecloth. She was adorable.

“Well, I think I feel sorry for you.”

“Don’t. I haven’t been sick.”

“Ever?”

“Never ever.”

“Not even a cold?”

She shook her head with a grin that
disappeared when the waiter arrived. She looked down at the table
as he placed iced water in front of her and a soda in front of
Harrison. Her mumbled thanks was only just audible.

He wanted to ask what made her so afraid of
others, but took a sip of his drink instead. Gemma placed her glass
back on the table and fiddled with her straw.

“So.” She cleared her throat. “Where were you
born?”

“Boulder, Colorado.”

“Oh cool. It’s pretty there, right?”

He nodded. “I think so. I can’t remember. We
only lived there for two years. That’s bordering on a record too.
My mom likes to move a lot.”

“I wonder why.”

Harrison shrugged. “Who knows. She…” He
paused the way he always did when broaching this subject. One look
at Gemma’s sincere interest had his lips flapping before he could
stop them. “My Dad died before I was born and it really screwed her
up. She’s a great mom, but I don’t think she’s ever fully gotten
over his death. We never talk about him and when I was little,
things would set her off real easy. She’d go into this funk for a
like a week and then we’d move.”

“Man, that sucks.”

“It’s gotten better since she met Bryan. He’s
helped slow her down a little.”

“Do you like him?”

“Yeah, he’s awesome. I love having them
around, although Rosie can drive me crazy.”

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