Chico glanced down at Andy as they walked up Novarro. She’d been the one to suggest walking instead of using his truck, which was still parked in front of her house. She had a point—it was a nice night. Now, however, he was faced with the hand-holding problem. Shortly to be followed by the far more serious kissing problem.
At the moment, there was also the staring problem. Given that he’d hit six-five by the time he was sixteen, he’d grown used to attracting a certain amount of attention. He figured Andy Wells probably wasn’t used to having total strangers gawk at her as she walked by. Fortunately, not many people were out on the streets this evening.
Two families had come into the Coffee Corral as they were finishing dinner, though. A little boy Chico figured for around five stopped dead in his tracks when he saw them. He stared, mouth open, until his mother grabbed his hand and pulled him to their table. Of course, his mom had also done her share of staring before she started muttering to her husband.
Andy’s cheeks had been noticeably pink by the time they’d left.
The top of her head came up to his shoulder. That wasn’t unusual. He’d long ago gotten used to looking down when he talked to most people. But if he wanted to hold her hand as they walked, he’d have to reach down and take it. It wasn’t like he could just casually brush against her and take her hand in his.
Well, hell. He’d never spent so much time thinking about how to hold a woman’s hand before. He leaned down in her direction and gripped her hand lightly.
Andy didn’t even pause. Instead she laced her fingers in his, glancing up at the moon through the pecan tree branches. “Nice night.”
“It is that.”
A couple walked by across the street. The woman’s head turned sharply, watching them as they turned the corner. He didn’t think Andy noticed. He hoped so, anyway.
“Where does your family live? I mean, I guess I’m assuming they all live around the same area, which may not be true, now that I think about it…” She shook her head. “Sorry.”
“Nothing to be sorry for. They live over on the west side of town. And yeah, they do all live pretty close together except for my brother Ed, who lives on his peach orchard over toward Stonewall.”
She smiled, raising her face to the moonlight. “Fresh peaches. Nice family connection to have.”
“Yeah, especially at this time of year. I’ll take you out to his farm stand sometime.” He said it easily, almost without thinking. And then almost stumbled on the sidewalk.
I’ll take you out to his farm stand sometime? Making some big assumptions there, aren’t you, vato?
Ahead of them a boy chased a soccer ball down his front yard, then stood holding it as he watched them walk by. Chico glanced his way and frowned. The boy turned and ran back toward his front porch.
Andy’s jaw tightened a bit, but then she relaxed again. She did move a little closer as they dodged around a pecan tree that leaned out of a yard close by.
Somewhere music was playing, maybe somebody’s radio in the backyard, the melody soft and lilting, the words too faint to be recognized. Chico felt almost like dancing for a moment, and then like catching his breath.
He didn’t dance. He never danced. Dancing, he looked like an elephant on roller skates.
Andy glanced up at him, smiling. “Do you recognize it?”
“The song?” He shook his head.
“‘The Tennessee Waltz’. My grandma had the record—Patti Page, the Singing Rage.”
“Oh. Yeah.” He blinked. He was a talent booker, for Christ’s sake. He should be able to recognize a song that had been covered by everybody from Otis Redding to Leonard Cohen. Once again, he felt that odd impulse to take Andy Wells in his arms and spin her around the front yard. He quickly kicked it away.
“We’re here,” she said.
He looked up. His truck was parked at the curb. Her porch light gleamed in the darkness. A couple dozen steps, and she’d be home. He pushed the front gate open, then followed her through.
Okay, you’ve got this. No problem. Except, of course, that he didn’t. He hadn’t felt this awkward since middle school.
She turned on the top step, looking down at him, or as down as she could look when they were basically nose to nose. “This is where I say I had a great time and thank you. Which is true. I did have a great time. And I do thank you. But it still sounds sort of weird to me.”
He frowned. “Why weird?”
She gave him a slightly rueful smile. “Because it’s such a routine thing to say. I feel like I should come up with something better.”
He shook his head. “I’ll take it.” His right hand moved to the back of her neck, almost without his thinking about it, and he drew her lips down to his.
Random thoughts drifted through his mind. She was so soft, so warm. How long had it been since he’d touched a woman like this? Kissed a woman when it wasn’t just a prelude to something else, when kissing was the main event?
He moved his hand up to the back of her head, let his fingers slide into her hair, trace the shape of her skull. He changed the angle of the kiss, brought his tongue to her mouth and tasted her.
Honey. Sweetness. A hint of fragrance. Gracious Lord above.