Nate finds a special button to push and Adelie makes a confession.
“How do you manage to keep a straight face through all of the abuse?” Nate sounded worried, and as Adelie looked up, she found a new warmth in his eyes. He’d driven her up to Bunker Hill again, this time in the truck and with a picnic basket, and they had made themselves comfortable in the truck bed, enjoying the view while the driver’s cabin sheltered them from the wind.
“I guess I’m just used to it. It’s not as bad around here as it was in the race camps. And – at least that’s what I keep telling myself – they don’t really mean me. They see me, and they have a particular idea of me, but they don’t know me. They abuse the picture they have, not me.”
He huffed. “Still. It’s not fair.”
“No, it’s not. But it’s also no reason to tarnish our little celebration. What do you have in your mystery picnic basket?” She grinned at him, and he grinned back.
“That’s a secret.”
She quietly observed him while he unpacked the culinary treasures in the form of sandwiches and cake onto the picnic blanket. She also had to remedy the picture she had had of him, and she must say, she really liked what she had found.
“We all do it, though, don’t we.”
He looked up. “We all do what?”
Adelie smoothed her hair back and cocked her head. “Create ideas of people before we know them. I certainly had an idea of you, and it couldn’t have been further away from the truth.”
His smile was pure tease. “What was your idea of me, and what did you find instead?” Hot blush crept into her cheeks, and his smile grew wider. “Come on, tell me.”
“Oh, alright then.” She huffed. “I thought you were really full of yourself, a playboy, the typical poster boy for a cocky pilot.”
Nate waggled his head. “This is not an entirely wrong assessment. Even though I prefer the terms ‘dashing’ and ‘daring’. Or ‘impossible’, but only when you say it.” He looked up and winked. She blushed. Again.
“Sometimes…” She smoothed the creases out of the tea towel that served as their picnic blanket. “Sometimes I wish we would spend more time together. I like you.”
He rummaged around inside the basket, but she could see him smile. It was a very private smile, almost invisible if not for a cute dimple in his cheek. “Spend more time with me doing what?” He asked, making eye contact again. She bent over until her face was only centimetres away from his.
“Oh, I don’t know. Riding motorcycles? Sitting in truck beds watching space ships? Anything, really.”
“Anything, huh? I see…” His smile was downright dangerous. Gently he brushed a hair from her cheek.
“There’s no reason to say this so sleazily, English.”
“But it makes you blush. It’s so flippin’ hard to make you blush.” He contemplated her face, his gaze wandering over her lips, cheeks and nose up to her eyes. Heat rushed into her cheeks again, and he smiled. “You’re unflappable. Not a red hot button like me.”
“You certainly found my blush button.”
He laughed softly at her confession. “Even worse – I like to push it.”
“Are you always such a shameless flirter?”
She scooted over, and he wrapped his arm around her. For a long while, they watched the incoming ships in silence. Eventually, he squeezed her and said: “Just so you know, I want to spend more time with you, too.”
“You say that as if you usually don’t spend time with people.” She craned her head to catch a glimpse of his face, but it was unreadable. He cleared his throat.
“I usually don’t spend a lot of time with women.”
“What?” Adelie struggled to sit upright again, which he prevented with tightening his grip around her. With a huff, she gave up and instead poked her finger into his ribs. “I thought you’re the guy who’s very successful with nurses. Leslie explicitly warned me about you. Is that not spending time with women?”
She heard him chuckle. “There’s a fundamental difference between going out with a woman once or twice, spending time with her in bed afterwards, and allowing someone into your life.”
“But you can’t fall in love with someone if you don’t let them into your life!” She blurted out, biting her lips immediately afterwards.
Nate sighed, then said, after a pause: “I don’t believe in love. It just leads to pain.”
“That’s not true!”
He turned his head and nuzzled her hair. “Says the one who cried bitter tears about some guy who broke her heart. Look, my parents had a gruesome divorce. I have trouble believing in happily ever afters after I’ve seen two grown-ups fight over a teapot like two toddlers in a sandbox.”
She pondered his words while they watched a Class 3 Sandhawk touchdown on the runway, the mighty roar of its engines reduced to a faint meow due to the distance. “And yet you once tried and let somebody close enough to hurt you with their dishonesty.”
His body became stiff for a second, then he exhaled forcefully. “Yeah, once I did.”
“So, no more women allowed in Nate Havisham’s life?”
He chuckled. “There’s always an exception to the rule.”