The Phantom Lover Ch. 5 – Half Date

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Chapter 5.) Half-Date

Will Chris flake out on me like last year? I peered out of our living room window for the third time. Dusk’s pink lavender painted the sky, but our red driveway only accommodated Mom’s Accord. It’d been almost three hours since his last text which was, “Getting ready.” He always looked good. Maybe that’s why he had a reputation for always being late. But with short hair, a gorgeous face, and a hot body, he didn’t need much except the right outfit to flaunt. Young, beautiful James Franco types like him had it easy.

“Will you stop looking out the window?” Mom walked to my side, wearing her faded and oversized t-shirt pajama-dress even though it was almost 7pm. “You look desperate.”

“And you look like a retired grandma.”

She chuckled as she pulled on her ugly dress. “Maybe I should change.”

I turned from the window. “No worries, I told him to honk when he arrives.”

She shook her head. “You totally should have had him knock.”

“Whatever, Mom, it’s fine.”

Two honks sounded outside. We both jumped.

“That’s him!” I bustled to the diamond-shaped mirror hanging by our computer desk. My curls had good volume, and my makeup was on point. The tight green polo I wore complimented my hazel eyes, and my equally as tight jeans accentuated my hips.

“You look good, mamashmoo.” Mom gestured to the door. “Now walk slow when you go out there. Don’t rush to his car or you’ll—”

“Look desperate, I know, thanks Mom.” I kissed her cheek and then walked out of the door. Taking her advice, I sauntered to the white SUV parked on the grass by the sidewalk. The passenger door lay open, and lowered windows revealed Landon in the backseat.

You’ve got to be kidding me. As he waved, I clenched my jaw and forced myself not to frown. Ugh, when would little seventeen-year-old boys ever grow up? Why couldn’t Chris watch a movie with me alone? I wasn’t some kick-butt villainess from his comic books that he needed a freaking sidekick for backup. Unless…he didn’t want this to be a date.

I forged a smile as I climbed into the passenger and closed the door.

“‘Sup, Tash?” Landon leaned forward and held out his palm.

“Nothing much.” I slapped his hand before staring at Chris. My hot anger cooled a decent amount. In a crisp, white short-sleeved button-down that kissed his olive skin, he looked like an Abercrombie model.

Chris smiled his I’m-pleased-to-see-you smile, but this time, slight embarrassment mingled with it. “I hope you don’t mind that I brought Landon.”

I put on a good act. “No, it’s fine.”

“Great.” He smiled again as he drove away from my house.

I peered out of the widow while we passed the old split-level homes on my block. No, I don’t mind at all that on our first date you brought your best friend. Despite how beautiful Chris is, this kid just lost some major brownie points.

Silence dominated most of the drive to the mall—for me and Chris at least. Maybe because we knew I wasn’t really cool with Landon being there, or because we both were nervous. Nonetheless, it made for quite an awkward fifteen minutes. Landon, however, wouldn’t shut up. He tried to make small talk, but it only highlighted just how little Chris and I were speaking, making it all the more awkward. Thank God for music. Sublime’s fun, punk rock/white boy reggae definitely eased the tension. I’d have to illegally download their albums later.

After finally finding a parking spot in the mall’s garage, Chris picked out an action flick and then paid for my ticket. Butterflies invaded my stomach as he smiled and handed me the stub. I clasped it and followed him to the theater. Now this definitely felt more like a date…

“Are you guys excited for the movie?” Landon squeezed in between us and laid his arms over our shoulders, his armpits unleashing an ungodly stench.

Chris shrugged Landon’s arm off and replied, “It should be good.” He looked at me. “I hope you like it, Tasha.”

“I’m sure I will.” If I can focus on it…

“You like action films?”

“I love them. Marilyn despises going to the movies with me because I hate chick flicks.”

Chris beamed. “I love that. My ex hated action films.” He quickly averted his gaze to the long hall ahead.

I did the same. Yeah. Not bringing up your ex on our first half-date should be a no-brainer. What the hell, dude. Why would he bring up Christina? Maybe the movies brought back memories of her? They did date for a year…Oh no. Did he still have feelings for her?

I shoved the negative thoughts away as we walked into our mostly empty theater and sat seven rows back. While I settled into a chair, Landon bent down, ready to sit between me and Chris.

Oh hell n—

Chris slapped Landon’s bicep and he quickly stepped aside and sat one seat back. I couldn’t refrain a smile as Chris smirked at me and took his rightful place at my side. Okay, we’re back to it feeling more like a date. His confident move-over to his buddy amped up my heart rate. Chris wanted to sit by me…

“I’m gonna go to the bathroom,” Landon said as if Chris were a drill sergeant that Landon needed to report everything to, from a butt–scratch to a nose pick. Chris ignored him as he rose and trotted out of the theater.

Finally, some alone time. And hey, since Chris made a bold gesture, why couldn’t I?

I scooted over and laid my head on Chris’s shoulder. His white button–down smelled laundry fresh, like lavender and linen fabric softeners with a soft, pleasant spritz of sweet, but subtle cologne. He rested his head on mine. With his warm, smooth cheek pressed against my temple, my stomach fluttered. I’ve never been this close to Chris before. It’s so amazing. Maybe now he really is starting to like me…

As I savored the intimacy, time sped by ridiculously fast. Before another move could be made, the freaking credits began to roll. Why couldn’t this be a Lord of the Rings film? I could easily stay like this for a few more hours…

Chris slowly pulled away from me, like someone awakening from a comfy bed who longed to linger. “I wonder where Landon is.”

“Yeah…” I could care less. Him not with us was how this date should have been to begin with.

Chris gradually rose and after a brief stretch, meandered to the exit. I reluctantly followed. I focused on not staring at the James Franco eye-candy as we traversed back into the mall and walked toward the glass doors leading to the parking garage. Landon paced outside of them, talking on the phone.

I pointed his way. “There’s La—”

Chris wrapped an arm around my shoulder and drew me in until our waists touched. I beamed. Please tell me this isn’t a dream because this is almost too good to be true. Chris is actually being affectionate with me…actually making bold moves, pulling me in rather than pushing me away like he had before.

“How’d you like the movie?” he asked as we exited.

I coerced a placid tone. “The shots and characters were cool, and the overall direction was pretty unique. I enjoyed it, but the ending wasn’t great.”

“Yeah, the ending did suck,” he replied. “I expected it to be better.”

Landon remained on the phone—and Chris’s arm remained on my shoulder—until we got to the car. As we all hopped in, Chris turned to our tag-along. “‘Ey, Landon, do you need to go home?”

Landon texted on his phone. “Nah, it’s cool, big bro, I’ll just sleep over your house.”

As he turned away from him, Chris’s eyes passed over me. I sank further into my seat. Great, now I won’t even be alone with Chris for a ten-minute car ride. Thanks, Landon.

Chris wore the smallest frown. I twirled the ends of my hair. Did that mean he also wanted Landon to leave? That question definitely seemed like a not-so-subtle way of telling his third-wheel he can boot. I wonder if that was the whole plan to begin with? Maybe Chris wanted to see how it went, see if he…liked me before being alone with me.

I glanced at Landon through the rear-view mirror, laughing obnoxiously to himself while he continued texting on his phone. What a terrible sidekick.

Yet again, dialogue proceeded to be sparse on the way back to my house, thanks to the elephant in the car. Sitting in silence—besides Sublime playing on the CD player—we pulled into my driveway.

“Peace out, Tash!” Landon hopped out of the backseat as I tried to open the passenger door.

“It only opens from the outside.” Chris opened the driver’s side and exited with an undeniable air of confidence and grace. Sheesh, even the way the guy moved screamed hot. He walked around to the passenger and opened the door for me. I tried to exit as gracefully. While Landon climbed into the passenger, Chris and I faced one another.

A smile spread across his beautiful face. “I had a nice time tonight.”

“Me too.”

He peered at me. The street lamps shined off of his dark irises as they locked onto mine. My heart pounded. That stare held super-powers. It hypnotized, it weakened, it thrilled, it—

Chris leaned in and let his baby-soft lips bless mine. They pressed softly, tender, yet firm. He opened his mouth, making every hair on my body rise. I sank into his kiss, enjoying every sensation brought with it.

God, I can do this forever…I opened my eyes. Oh, right. Though my lips begged me to stay, I stepped back, glimpsing at Landon, pretending to be on his phone. We didn’t need to put on a show for the guy.

Chris graced me with his exceptional smile, wider than usual. “Goodnight, Tasha.”

“Goodnight, Chris.” I managed to maintain a calm, steady-paced, I’m-not-freaking-out-with-joy-right-now gait to my door. But when I stepped inside, I bounced on my feet like a toddler who’d just been told she’s going to Disney World.

My parents’ bedroom door opened, Dad’s hibernating bear snores flowing from within. Mom stepped into the hall, still in her hideous jammy tee-shirt dress, but bright-eyed.

I stopped bouncing, though I couldn’t stop smiling. “You didn’t have to wait up for me.”

“Tell that to me when you have two daughters.”

My smile faded some. When my sister lived here, she’d rendered Mom many late and sleepless nights…

Mom put on her lousy poker face. “How’d it go?”

I ascended our five-step staircase. “Mamatu, I know you were being a peeping Tom.”

She smirked guiltily. “I’m glad it went well. It’s about time.”

I held up my palm. “Tell it like it is, girl.”

She high-fived me and after kissing her goodnight, I entered my new, Chinese-themed sanctuary—inspired by Chris and his Buddhist beliefs. I collapsed onto my black comforter, face-planting into my satin, red throw-pillow. Turning onto my back, I stared at the paper lantern hanging in the corner above my TV. This year, my fortunes had surely changed, as I had desperately hoped they would.

For the first time I could actually say, “Chris Conners likes me.”

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