The defiant universe brought her running to her door just as I turned to mine. She saw me, pulled her earbuds, and jogged over the grass.
That was a surprise. It wasn't "Mr. Beal" or "Professor," it was just "good morning." I pushed aside the ridiculous thought that I might
have been on her mind.
"How far did you get this morning?" I asked.
She grinned. "You wouldn't believe me."
I wiped my neck with my wet shirt and leaned back, arms crossed, ready to disbelieve.
Her eyes flitted, once, to my glistening chest, and returned to meet my gaze. "I got to the new mall."
I had to laugh. The girl was no joker. She had run six miles to the construction site on the outskirts of downtown, and then back again.
"You must have been going easy on me the other night," I said. "I passed you earlier and I only made it half as far."
She took the hem of her shirt and used it to wipe the sweat drops above her lip. Her body was flushed and wet, and the glimpse of her taut
stomach pulled at the nerves in my core. I was overwhelmed by an intense desire to take her in my arms. This girl was no older than my
daughter, and yet...
"Where did you go?"
I shook myself from my reverie. "Miles away," I murmured. "I mean, just to the quarry. More thinking than running this morning."
She nodded. "I have those days."
School was almost over, and soon she and Rebecca would be galavanting over town, searching for jobs and entertainment in the few weeks
before they matriculated. "Any plans?" I asked, inwardly shocked. I was making small talk.
She shrugged. The silence stretched, and her lingering gaze unnerved me. She had the slow, comfortable peace of a completed run in her eyes,
and those eyes were searching me for answers.
"You seem more content than the last time I saw you," I said.
"Something happened to me."
My heart skipped a beat.
She pulled the tie out of her ponytail and languidly stretched her neck as she scooped her fingers through her wet hair. "It was strange,
and sexy...and inappropriate."
I stood rooted to my doorstep, dumbfounded by her frank confession. I licked my lips. "Amber--"
"You know, don't you?"
"It's okay. I want you to know."
"Because it helped me."
"I don't know why--"
She shook her head. "Maybe that's true. But you are 'exceedingly intelligent.' I think you can figure it out." And with a sly look in her
eye and a graceful twist of her hips, she turned to go. "I'll be home all day, Mr. Beal. If Rebecca wants me."
I watched her thighs bounce as she jogged back across the lawn. She'd said Rebecca, but the invitation sounded quite open.
My heart hammered against my chest as I staggered up the stairs. I stripped off my shorts and shoes and threw myself into the shower. The
hot water drenched my sticky skin, refreshing my body if not my mind.
What did Amber know? How could she know? And yet, hadn't she said my name that night? I'd thought perhaps it was part of her fantasy, a
naughty wish fulfillment, but that was naive. She said she knew my smell.