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NOT JUST A CRUSH by Helena Hunting
The blustery wind pushes me through the door and causes a swirl of flakes to follow me. As soon as I’m clear of the door, she tries to close it. But the wind is strong, and she’s . . . tiny. The kind of tiny I associate with the girl on top of the cheerleader pyramid or those creepy semi-life-sized dolls they sell in department stores. It’s clear she’s using her full weight against the door, yet she’s losing the battle.
I lift a hand over her head—I don’t have to reach high to accomplish that—and push it closed. She stumbles forward a couple of steps, and her toe catches on the doormat. She recovers herself and spins around, her face a shade of pink I associate with embarrassment.
She takes three large steps to the side, putting a few feet of distance between us. She pushes her glasses up her nose and glances from the door to me and back again. “Good fucking God, are you part bear? You’re huge.” Her hands flail around in the air, then find each other, then part again.
“Maybe you’re just small?” I offer.
My breath puffs out in the air with each exhale, and so does hers. It’s freezing in here. Which explains why she’s wearing a parka, a beanie, a scarf, and a pair of giant mittens. All in matching shades of pink. She looks like a chewed-up wad of bubblegum with a face and limbs.
“Having trouble with the fire, then, Princess?” I motion to the hearth where the fire sits unlit.
She crosses her arms. “My name is Dahlia, not princess.”
“Dahlia?” I echo.
I inspect her closer. It can’t be . . .
Dahlia is not a common name. Tiny Dahlias with long, dark wavy hair and almond-shaped eyes so dark it’s nearly impossible to see where her iris ends and her pupils begin seem even more rare. But the odds seem . . . implausible.
“Yeah. Like the flower.” She pushes her glasses up her nose again with her mittened hand and goes back to crossing her arms.
And I stand there, like an idiot, and keep staring. Because it is her.
Seriously, that’s her name.
And I had the biggest fucking crush on her in high school.
Like seriously, the biggest fucking crush.
But I was on the football team, and she was a mathlete. We ran in different circles. I was a giant asshole with even bigger asshole friends, and she was a gorgeous nerd. One of my best friends back then, who I still talk to now, used to make fun of her all the time. It was juvenile. And dickish. I didn’t participate, but I also didn’t stop him. Which makes me just as bad, if not even worse.
So far, she hasn’t recognized me. It’s been four years. Maybe she won’t recognize me at all. Maybe I wasn’t on her radar in high school. Maybe she was too busy being a fucking genius to notice the jocks. Although she did tutor a couple of my teammates along the way.
I realize I haven’t replied to the whole flower comment or responded in general. “Looks like you had some trouble starting the fire.” I thumb over my shoulder.
“I never got the fire-making badge in Girl Scouts.” I can’t tell if she’s being sarcastic.
“Have you unpacked anything yet?” Man, my conversation skills need a serious workout.
“No, I was too busy trying to earn my fire-making badge.” Her nose is pink from the cold, and her cheeks are already flushed, but the way she ducks her head tells me she’s pretty damn embarrassed by her lack of fire- making ability.
I nod once. “All right. Well, let’s grab your bag and get you out of here.” “Out of here?” she parrots.
“Yeah. I’ll take you back to town. Set you up at the motel.” I take my gloves off because my hands are starting to sweat. The great thing about my jacket is that it keeps me warm in subzero temps. The bad part is that now that I’m no longer facing -30 degrees and a face full of snow, I’m over here sweating my balls off even though it’s pretty freaking frigid in here.
“Motel?” Her nose wrinkles. “Why can’t I stay here?”
“You can, but they’re gonna close the roads soon, and when they do that, you’ll be stuck here until they open them again.”
“Close the roads?” Apparently, she’s trying out for the role of parrot tonight.
“Yeah. Unless you missed it, there’s a blizzard happening out there. We’re getting another twelve to eighteen inches between tonight and tomorrow afternoon. If I don’t get you off the side of this mountain soon, we’re both going to be stuck here until the storm is over and they’ve had a chance to plow the roads.”
“Oh, my God. How long will that be?”
I shrug. “Could be a couple of days, could be a week.”