Annie was in a visible huff as she sidled up to the news and snacks rack at the Greyhound bus station kiosk. She'd left Ben's apartment in such a rush of packing and throwing insults and recriminations at each other that she hadn't even thought about the long bus ride to Cincinnati. Now she needed something to read and something to calm her nerves and unruffle her feathers while she was waiting for the bus to pull in.
What was it that Ben had said? That she rushed to judgments and ran hot and cold all the time? OK, so maybe he had brought her Valentine's Day flowers and she'd flown off the handle thinking he hadn't. But he'd had to tease her by not bringing them in right away, pretending he hadn't even known it was Valentine's Day, and not saying anything about the sexy skirt and blouse she'd paid a pretty dime for and was wearing on purpose, just for him.
Maybe it was the way he'd said she made wild assumptions that made her unload her long-held resentment of his insensitivity and take-take-take. Anyhow, she'd known the relationship was coming to an end for some time. She suspected that Ben knew it too—that he hadn't been unaware of how she had been paring down what she had in his apartment to what she could fit into one suitcase. It had been a mistake to move in with him in his apartment to begin with. They should have kept separate places or he should have moved in with her. No, she thought, that wouldn't have been good. He wouldn't even have noticed that someone needed to move on. She wouldn't have been able to get rid of him.
No, it was better that she go camp out with her sister Liz in Cincinnati for awhile. It was a good thing that an ER nurse could get work on short notice almost anywhere. She'd had enough of "here." It wasn't just Ben. She needed to burn these bridges down to the waterline. What was it that someone said to her the other day—that she'd gotten to be boring when she once was so spontaneous and fun easy? Whatever "fun easy" was to that guy. She wasn't about to go there. She and that guy had had a whirlwind thing going for a while that was best not delved into. Is that what eight months with old boring Ben had done to her—made her as boring as he was?
She pulled a book off the stand with such angry force that it and three others hit the floor together. A young man stooped and picked them up. He gave her a smile, which she only half returned, and put the books back in the shelf for her. They'd been in alphabetic order by author, though, and, as if to prove how ordered she'd become, she rearranged them with a "Marion the Librarian" show of irritation that couldn't have been lost on the young man, who shrank away from her and gave a hurt puppy dog flash of a reaction. This was quickly covered with one of apology on his part and another smile.
Nothing from Ann. But he was still looking at her with a silly grin on his face. She was about to ask, "What are you looking at, Bub?" when she realized she'd left the apartment in such a rush that she was still wearing the sexy blouse and skirt she'd donned for Ben's benefit. Well, we'll just let someone else's tongue hang out in appreciation for those, good ole' Ben, she thought. But she did give a tug to the lapels of her jacket to cover herself a bit better.
That the guy would apologize for helping to straighten up her book toss in a snit of irritation irritated Ann further, and she blindly pulled one of the books out of the rack—reaching a new level of irritation when she saw him smile again—grabbed at a snack package of potato chips, and flounced off to the sales counter with them. She didn't look around to see what the young man was doing, but the image of him flashed in her mind again: nice looking, irritatingly engaging smile and pale-blue eyes under a blond mop with a lock falling down into his face, good build—not bodybuilder good like Ben's was . . . but why the hell did she care? All men were scum.
She found a seat facing the arrivals board, which would keep her informed on the change in arrival time for the bus to Cincinnati. There would always be a rolling delay in the arrival of a bus one needed to get on—just like for trains and airplanes. There was an attached table in the seating unit on her left, with a seat on the other side. She pulled the paperback novel she'd just bought out of her floppy handbag and slapped it down on the table, only now looking at the title, which made her chuckle. It was Grey by E. L James—Christian's side of 50 Shades of Grey. She'd sworn off James half way through that series, and she wouldn't have consciously bought a book like this on a bet. What a waste of money.
She reached in the open bag of potato chips on the table, took one out, and plopped it in her mouth. Only now did she realize that the young man from the news kiosk had sat down in the chair on the other side of the table.
The nerve of him, she thought. Coming on to me in a public place like this. He could have sat anywhere. But, looking around now, she saw there wasn't much of anywhere else he could have sat. Several buses were scheduled to leave in the next hour, and the waiting room was buzzing with other people.
She was about to calm down and tell herself that he wasn't following her when she looked at his face and realized that he was looking at the book she had put on the table—the erotica book that was pretty well known to be that. Blushing—and irritated—she turned the book over. Worse, as she did so, she saw that he had his hand in the bag of potato chips. He pulled a chip out, and in doing so, their hands brushed against each other. He plopped the chip in his mouth, smacking his lips slightly at the pleasure of the taste.
She shrank away from him. The nerve of him, she thought. Taking one of her potato chips. It's something Ben would have done without a thought, as well. A stranger in a bus waiting room. And that little tingle she felt when their hands had brushed against each other. What was up with that? Such conflicted sensations she was having.
Well, they were her potato chips. This was her territory the young man was invading. Making a big to do to rustle the bag, she extracted two potato chips and gave them a noisy chomp. There, that would show him.
But what was he doing? He was in the potato chip bag again and had pulled a couple of them out . . . and he was eating them! And the bastard was giving her a little smile!
The challenge was on. She attacked the potato chips again. A whole handful now. Maybe all of them. She'd taken too many out to eat all at once, so she ate them individually, slowly, making a production of it, savoring each one, making sounds of sheer pleasure as, one by one, they passed her lips and met their fate. She did a sensual job of it, moaning her pleasure, teasing him. She'd give him a hint of what he wasn't going to get by stealing and ravishing her potato chips. But then she was gripped with the realization that she was being turned on by all of this herself—and not just the tug of war over the potato chips but also at how cute and arousing he was, despite his forwardness and crass possessiveness with her chips.
She looked out of the corner of her eyes to see how the selfish thief would react to this. The cheeky bastard was smiling at her. Damn it, why did he have such an inviting, impish smile? She intentionally had a pout on—the whole thing with Ben and the impetuous way she was running away. She wasn't in the mood for flirtation with another Ben. Why didn't he just go away and leave her to wallow in her pout? Why didn't he take his cute butt somewhere else? She did a double take in realizing that she had, in fact, previously observed and unconsciously absorbed that he had a cute butt.
He had discovered that there was one potato chip left in the bag, a big one. He pulled it out, and they looked at each other for a moment like they were going to have a showdown over who would get it. He smiled again, though, broke the chip in two and handed her the bigger half.
They chewed together, eyeing each other. Then he saluted her, rose, and left.
Why did she feel a sudden loss? He'd been just another Ben. A flirt and a taker. But why did she feel deflated as she picked up the paperback book, turned, and slipped it into her handbag? . . . only to find, still nestled in her handbag, the packet of potato chips she'd bought at the kiosk. The unopened package of potato chips.
The bag of potato chips she and the young man had dueled over hadn't been her potato chips at all—as she had assumed. They'd been his potato chips.
Aghast and burning with embarrassment, she looked around the waiting room, both wanting to see him so she could apologize and not wanting to see him because of the depth of her embarrassment in having run with a misassumption. He wasn't to be seen.
She still hadn't seen him when they called the boarding for her bus. She was still feeling a sense of loss when she entered the bus and found a window seat. As she settled, she sensed someone sit in the aisle seat next to her.
It was, of course, the young man from the waiting room. He turned and smiled at her. He was holding his hand out, extending a opened potato chip packet to her.
"Would you like to share these chips with me?" he asked. "My name is Mark. I think we should know each others' names if we are going to share chips intimately."
Blushing, she answered, "Hi, Mark, I'm Ann. Yes, I'd love to share chips with you, thanks."
"Where are you bound to?" he asked.
"Cincinnati," she answered.
"I'm glad," he said, "That's my destination too."
She, of course, realized that he had a hand on her knee. She didn't mind that at all. After all they'd already intimately shared a chip.