When it’s our turn to make the gradual decline, I’m not scared, even though the bike feels like it could tip forward if we aren’t careful. We lean with each turn, laughing all the way down. At the bottom, Ian pulls over and we look back up the street.
“Let’s do it again!” I yell.
And so we do.
We’re headed back across town, closer to the water. It takes a while. We go the long way, taking detours to see the prettiest spots. We both know the city pretty well and keep thinking of one more place to drive past. Dusk is settling in and the lights are beginning to twinkle like thousands of lightning bugs. It’s becoming more and more enchanting with each further dip into twilight.
A twinge of remorse about Michael squeezes my gut as we near the wharf, but I try to shrug it off. We drive past the touristy areas and cross the highway into the land of the houseboats. I’ve always been intrigued by the thought of living on the water. I think I could do it.
Ian comes to a stop outside a quaint sushi place. “Do you like sushi? This place is great.”
“I love it.”
“Are you hungry yet?”
“I can pretty much always eat.”
His lips lift in his adorable grin. He turns off the bike and just sits there a moment with my arms around him. I realize I have to let go if he’s going to get off and so I reluctantly move my arms to my sides. He looks back at me, and I wish I knew what he was thinking. He’s gone all contemplative on me since the boutique.
We order like we haven’t eaten in a week, even though we both did damage to the steak at the Roberts’ house.
“So tell me something no one knows about you,” Ian says.
“Hmm. Well, very few people know that I have a selective smeller. My nose has never worked properly. I’ve never even smelled a skunk. No one ever believes me when I tell them that, so I’ve given up talking about it. They will be holding their noses and gagging and I will do a heavy SNIFF and nada. Not even a faint whiff. But then, I can smell some things. Just here and there and enough to make me think it does work … until I go to describe the smell and realize I don’t have a clue—I can’t even begin to make a sensory comparison. So it’s usually a dumb reference. Like, that smells … good?”
He stares at me for a moment before letting out a huge laugh. “I never know what’s going to come out of your mouth. You’ve seriously NEVER smelled a skunk?”
Ian clears his throat. “Can I ask about your writing?”
“What do you enjoy writing?”
“Well … I enjoy writing about simple things, really, but in a funny, honest way. I’m not too flowery or even deep. I mean … I can go there, but it’s most fun to put a twist on an every day subject. Or to write a love story that has real, flawed characters. I don’t like things to be wrapped up with a bright red bow. Life isn’t that way.”
He nods his head. “I know what you mean. Is it hard to write that way? Not everyone likes to hear the truth.”
“Yes,” I’m surprised that he gets right to the root of things. “This is a topic I think about often, especially with all the conservative people in my life. I don’t want to upset anyone, but I can only seem to spew out honesty.”
He lets out a choked laugh, mid-sushi bite. “How can that be wrong?”
“Oh, there are many, many ways,” I sigh. “I’m not published yet … but I’m trying to prepare my family that they might not like it when I am.”
“Never hesitate to tell the truth. It’s the only way it will be any good.”
After a brief pause, I think about how easy it is to open up to him. My writing is a topic I’m not comfortable delving into with just anyone. There’s something about him; he seems to pull all the vulnerabilities right out of me. It’s actually freeing to be this exposed.
“What about you? What is your writing process like?”
He sighs. “I have to fight to write an honest song. There’s a lot of fluff out there and the public seems to eat that up. I think my mission is to challenge listeners—I’ll never be satisfied to whip out a tune just for the sake of creating a hit. A good song has to be something that evolves, something that is birthed from an emotion, an idea … an emptiness that needs filling. And it’s not enough to just write it all at once and be done with it. I work and rework lyrics the way you probably do when you’re writing a story.”
“You’re so intense,” I tease.
“Ha. You … you’re … you’re one to talk.” He points at me and shakes his head. “You’re making me stutter like a schoolboy.”
“I don’t think you’ve ever stuttered in your life. And you’re like an overgrown schoolboy … so … I don’t think it’s me…” I laugh.
By the time we’ve finished every bite of food—seriously, how did we put all of that away?—I feel like I can tell him anything. While we wait for the check, Ian leans his chin on his hand and watches me.
“I’ve never met anyone like you,” he says.
“I’ve never met anyone like you either,” I reply.
“Yeah, but I suck and you’re wonderful,” he says without an ounce of irony.
I snort. “Nooo.”
“You barely know me,” I say.
“I know enough. You are … carefree, smart, really funny … honest.”
My new low-cut blouse is not helping cover the splotches that are taking over my neck. It’s my curse. I can’t handle all this praise. We thank the waitress as she takes our plates and leaves the bill.
He leans in even further. “And you’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.”
Okay, now my entire body is one enormous blotch. Color me red.
He points at my neck. “Keep that up, and I will have my way with every single one of those little blushes. I can’t be trusted.”
I’m not sure how long we’re there; both of us are so deeply in this conversation. I vaguely recall hearing Ian’s phone go off several times, but since he’s ignoring it, I do too. Finally, it lets off a continuous buzz. I guess someone really wants to get in touch with him.