“Hmm,” Afric eyed me a moment just as the waitress arrived with her food. She’d ordered waffles with maple syrup, blueberries, bananas, and a plate of bacon on the side. I watched in awe as she immediately dug in.
I’d always found sweet things unappetising in the morning, never mind the mix of sweet and savoury she was currently indulging in. The woman must’ve had a gut of steel. I, on the other hand, inherited IBS from my father’s side of the family, which meant I was always careful about what I ate. I was also intolerant to dairy. The bright side was that I kept a trim, athletic figure and rarely put on weight.
“Afric,” I said, trying to snag her attention. She looked up, chewing on a bite of waffle as she waited for me to continue. “You’re not going to tell anyone about this, are you?” I asked, ducking my chin.
She put down her fork and reached out to touch my hand. The contact was unexpected, and a jolt of awareness went through me. People didn’t touch me very often, which was probably why I was having a visceral reaction to her hand on mine.
“Of course not,” she replied, her expression sincere. “Swear on my own life. We’re friends now, Neil. You can trust me.”
She let go of my hand and picked her fork back up. “Look, I know I can come across a little abrasive at first, but I swear, it’s not intentional.” A pause as she smirked. “Most of the time, I can’t help it, but I think you’re interesting, Neil Durant. You’ve got secrets, the juicy kind, and only the most intriguing people have secrets like that.”
I was a little taken aback by her compliment. I’d never considered myself particularly interesting. “I don’t like having secrets, though. And I really don’t want to be intriguing. I just want to be normal.”
She pointed her fork at me. “Well, it’s lucky you met me. If it’s the last thing I do, I’ll make Annabelle fall in love with you, and you two will be the most normal couple in the world.”
I wasn’t convinced, but I’d give her a shot. It wasn’t like I had many other options. Besides, there was always a chance that it could work, even if it was a slim one. Afric could turn out to be my very own genie in a bottle, granting me a wish that could make my life normal and boring again.
I returned my attention to my laptop while Afric finished her food. When she was done, she used a napkin to dab her face, placed some money down on the table, then slid out of the booth. I eyed her warily as she approached, reaching out as if to touch me again. I drew back because I wasn’t prepared for the odd zing I’d felt when she’d put her hand on mine a few minutes ago.
“Relax. Your collar is stuck inside your jumper,” she said, clearly noticing my stiffness. “I was just going to fix it for you.”
I reached up and fixed the collar myself. She shot me a crooked grin. “Do you not like being touched or something?”
“Why would you ask that?”
“You just backed away like I have the plague. I know gamers get a bad rap for hygiene, but I swear I’m clean. I always shower before I leave the flat, at least.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to offend you. I’m just a little …”
“Stiff? Awkward?” she suggested. “We’re going to need to loosen you up before you meet Annabelle. Women like to be touched, ya know.”
My gut dropped. I just couldn’t imagine meeting Annabelle, seeing the disappointment in her eyes when she took me in. Then, I thought about touching her, and my throat dried up. I was a lying piece of shit, and I definitely didn’t deserve to touch someone as angelic as Annabelle.
“Well, I need to get going,” Afric said, interrupting my thoughts. “Text me if you plan on stopping by my flat this week.”
With that, she left. I stared back at my laptop screen, and it took me a long while to remember what I’d been working on.
“You need to shut up and let me concentrate,” I complained as I sat in my gaming chair several hours into a livestream.
I was trying to pinpoint where the troll was hiding, and TheBigSix was being way too distracting. The troll was a sneaky little bastard. I planned to clobber him with my truncheon, but he kept hiding behind boulders and rocks. The virtual violence was going to win me a whopping two hundred points.
“I didn’t say anything,” TheBigSix argued.
“You’re talking right now, aren’t ya?” I countered. “And when I said you need to shut up, I meant you’re breathing way too heavily. What’s going on over there anyway?”