Shielding Lily(7)

By: Alexa Riley

I walk to the end of the line, and they ring up my food and charge my school badge. My parents put money in an account for me at the school, and the cost of it is taken from that balance. I help my dad at the hardware store some nights and on the weekends in the off season to earn money. So if I need to add extra to the school account, I can. But I’m not worried about making sure Lily has enough to eat. She will have whatever she damn well wants.

I take the trays over to where she’s sitting and place them both in front of us and sit beside her. I could easily sit across from her, but I want to be as close to her as I can. I feel like my body is so much bigger than hers, so I can shield her from something if necessary.

These thoughts about protecting her keep popping in my head, and I don’t know where they come from. I’ve never felt so strongly about someone so instantly, but the need is overwhelming.

“What are you in the mood for?” I ask, nudging a fry towards her.

“This is a ton of food. Let me give you some money.” She starts to reach in her bag, but I place my hand over hers and bring it back to my lap.

“Don’t worry about it. Whatever you don’t eat, I will. So you better pick something before it’s gone.”

She smiles at me, and it hits me right in the chest. It’s more powerful than any hit I’ve taken playing football. How can she have this effect on me?

She looks at the food and takes the plate with a slice of pizza and scoots it closer to her. I’m still holding her other hand in my lap, so with my free hand I grab one of the Cokes and place it in front of her, following it with an order of fries. After that I grab the brownie and set it beside it, and she waves her hand.

“That’s enough. I’m good,” she laughs and looks up at me through her lashes. “We can share.” She pushes the brownie between us, and the thought of sharing with her sounds intimate.

I grab one of the three burgers and take a bite while she does the same with her pizza. Neither of us takes our hands away while we eat. It’s as if we’ve been doing this for longer than a few hours, and I have no desire to stop it.

She leans over to me, and she speaks so softly I can barely hear what she’s saying. “People are whispering.”

I look around the room for what feels like the first time in forever. Normally I don’t really pay attention to my surroundings when I’m in the cafeteria. I grab an empty seat, eat, and leave. Sometimes I’ll read in the quad before my next class, but that’s about it. I catch a few stares before people turn away, but I look at Lily and shake it off.

“People usually do that when I’m around. Just ignore it. It’s not you.”

“Why do you think it’s you?” she asks, genuine curiosity in her voice.

“Because I don’t talk much. And I keep to myself.” I shrug and go back to eating.

“You’ve talked to me, and you don’t know me.”

I stop and think about that for a second. She’s right, but I don’t know how to explain it so that I don’t sound crazy. My whole life my dad has said I’ve been a natural talent at whatever I do. I’m smart, so I make straight As. I’m athletic, so I’ve got a full ride to college. But he’s told me over and over that I need to find my passion. That one day I’ll find something that I can’t live without, and that’s what I should do with my life. Looking at Lily, her big blue doe eyes meeting mine, I feel something in my heart change. I think I’ve found something I’m passionate about.

“You’re special,” I whisper and tuck a loose strand of hair behind her ear. She ducks her head, but I see the blush on her cheeks before she turns away.

We sit in comfortable silence for a bit until I force her to eat another slice of pizza and half a cheeseburger and fries before she finally gives in.

“I’m going to die. I can’t eat anymore,” she says, trying to hold back a laugh.

“But you’ve got your dessert stomach, so it’s all good.”

“My what?” she says playfully, and I stifle the urge to pull her into my lap.

“You know, you’ve got one stomach for food, and then you’ve got one stomach for dessert. So no matter how much dinner you eat, there’s always room for sweets.” I’m telling her the same thing my mom has been saying since I was a kid. I unwrap the brownie and hold it out for her to take a bite.

She shakes her head at me, but I wiggle it a little and smile at her. She laughs and leans forward, opening her mouth, and I try not to stare at her full lips as they open and she takes a bite of the corner. I feel her mouth graze my thumb, and it sends heat pulsing down my spine. How did something so innocent and funny turn into something more in a matter of seconds?

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