"Leave your lights on?" Cori said this automatically. That question was the first thing to ask when a car wouldn't start. Still, the guy was always pretty sharp in class so she couldn't imagine him doing something that absent-minded.
"Not that I recall."
"Did you check?"
"If they were burned out, how could I check?"
She stared at him for a moment to see if he was serious. His baby-innocent expression convinced her that he was as serious as a heart attack. "First off, they wouldn't burn out. Your battery would die first. Second, you could see if the switch was turned on." She pulled in beside his van and revised her initial opinion of how sharp he was.
"Huh." He shrugged. "Hadn't thought of that." He raked a hand through his dark hair, hair that was long enough to pull into a tiny ponytail in the back, something he occasionally did in class.
When a thick lock flopped back across his forehead, she fought the urge to brush the dark curl back into place. His mass of hair was far longer than her own, and that thought made her so self-conscious, she tugged her hat down tighter on her head.
"Let's go take a look," Cori said, determined not to think about how much she wished she looked like a girl right now. What was it about this guy that turned her normally strong spine into mush? Next thing you knew, she'd giggle and blush. Ick.
She opened her door and swung down to the ground. He slid the van door open for her and inserted the key into the ignition. When she turned the key and nothing happened, she popped the hood. "I'll give the battery a jump. You get in and try it when I say when."
"Turning the key." Dear heavens, the guy was utterly helpless. "You mean to tell me you've never jumped a battery before?"
"I imagine I've done that about as many times as you've made chicken cordon bleu."
"Hey...I've made it." She hated that her voice sounded petulant. But, she had made it before. In his class, the first week. Never mind that she'd caused a ruckus by flinging the chicken breast two stoves over when the hunk of meat had stuck to the stupid wooden hammer thingie she was using to pound it out. The other students hadn't minded, not even the one who'd gotten the slimy bit of poultry right in the kisser.
One corner of his mouth twitched in what might have been amusement. "See, there's a first time for everything. Just walk me through the procedure, step-by-step, would you? I may be untaught, but I'm far from unteachable."
He looked so earnest and unoffended by her shock, Cori couldn't help but agree to his request. She shoved up the van's hood, standing on tip-toe and pushing it with her fingertips to get it all the way into place. At the sight of the battery, she cringed. "Geez. Yuck."
"What?" He stood behind her, looking over her shoulder.
Surely she shivered at the cold, and not at his proximity. She shrugged off the feeling and pointed.
"Your battery is corroded. It's a wonder your engine has started at all lately." She stepped back and tromped on his toe with her boot. At his grunt, she said, "Sorry. But, back off a little. I need some space to think." And to let her nerves settle down.
"Can't you just jump it?"
She rolled her eyes at him. "Yeah, maybe, but I'd rather not crud up my cables and jumping that mess of a battery really wouldn't fix the real problem. It would be like treating cancer with aspirin. How about a free tow instead?"
He looked at her, suspicion in his blue eyes. "What's the catch? I mean, you don't even like me."
"Not like you?" She snorted. "I'd say it's the other way around, teach."
He stared, blinking owl-like, but said nothing.
She shifted nervously from foot to foot. Finally, she couldn't take the silence a minute longer. "Well? You want to stay here or can I take you and your van somewhere?"
"I'm fairly new in town and don't know any good car repairmen."
"Oh? Do you get a kickback for referring me?"
"See...I knew you didn't like me." She smirked. "And, no I don't get a kickback, exactly."
"What's 'exactly' mean?"
"I mean that it's me." She stuffed her cold hands into her jacket pockets and rocked back on her heels.
"It's you, what?"
"I'm a reputable car repairman."
He stared at her again, and that little habit of his was really making her uncomfortable. That look cut through her tough outer skin, right to her soft and easily embarrassed center. His gaze scooted up to her face, down to her toes and back again. The look was as soft as a caress and she fisted her hands, annoyed at her body's reaction to it.
"You're no man," he announced.
"What? Are you some kind of Neanderthal? You think because of my chromosomes I can't fix a minivan?"
"I didn't say that." The corner of his mouth turned up in a smile, the first real one ever aimed in her direction. "You called yourself a repairman, and I only said that you aren't a man. That's a fact. Despite your dress and demeanor, you are very much a woman."
A thrill of attraction shivered up her spine and left her unable to speak coherently. She fell back on a simple, "Oh."