One Time Only by Lauren Blakely

I wag a finger. “Don’t make me prove you wrong, man. Maybe you want to try another music debate.”

“I’m always game for a musical debate.”

“Hit me up, then,” I say. I’m a glutton for punishment.

“Fine, how’s this?” Stone sets his empty glass on the table at Speakeasy and pierces me with those eyes. “You can’t possibly count Imagine Dragons as alt.”

I shrug with a smirk. “I can, and I do.”

He stabs the table with his finger. “That’s sacrilege, man. That’s what my teenage sister listens to.”

I laugh. Like he thinks I don’t know that’s a big fat lie. “Stone, come on. What do you take me for? You don’t have a teenage sister.”

“Exactly. That’s my point.” He leans back in the booth, stretching his long legs in front of him.

I narrow my brows. “You invented a sister to make a point? That makes zero sense.”

“That’s who listens to Imagine Dragons. Teenage girls. I’m not saying they aren’t a cool band. I’m not saying their music isn’t dope. But my point is they’re not alt rock, even if they started on college stations. Teens love them. Alt rock is not for teens. Ergo . . .”

That’s my opening, my way to needle him, since needling Stone is how I handle the gallons of lust I feel for him. I nod like I’m absorbing his point. “What you’re saying is you don’t like music that teenagers enjoy. You’re saying that if a teenager likes it, it’s not quality music,” I say, having fun winding him up.

It takes my mind off this absolutely inconvenient attraction.

His voice rises, full of conversational fury. “That’s not what I said at all, and you know it. You’re just twisting my words to suit yourself.”

I crack up. “You think that’s what I’m doing? I’m twisting everything the great Stone Zenith says to win my argument?”

“Maybe you are. Does it suit your agenda?” He finishes that question edging up on the last word like it means something else.

Maybe it does. That’s the crux of my problem.

Determined to overcome this weakness, I focus on the subject of music, only music. “Seems you’re the one twisting logic to support your argument that teens don’t have musical taste. Did you know I have a sixteen-year-old sister?”

I wait for his answer. I’m confident he doesn’t know this detail about me, because I don’t share shit with him and my life is not lived on the internet. I’m not the open book he is. The book of me is closed, and there is no social media to scroll through.

For reasons. For necessary reasons—namely self-preservation.

He huffs. “No. Thanks a lot for trusting me with your innermost secrets about your siblings.”

I laugh. “Thanks for never asking.”

“Would you have answered if I had?”

I cross my arms over my chest. “Why don’t you ask and find out?”

He takes a deep breath, like he’s settling himself. “Jackson Pearce, do you have a sixteen-year-old sister? And while we are doing the family tree thing, do you have any other siblings?”

I grin. “I have a twenty-six-year-old sister named Caroline who’s a high school algebra teacher. She’s also good at chess, and she and her boyfriend do competitive couples kayaking together. Bethany is my sixteen-year-old sister, and she likes all kinds of music. She likes Imagine Dragons and Nirvana, the Beatles and Alanis Morissette, show tunes and Greyson Chance. She also likes Beethoven. Her taste is wide and varied and eclectic. Also, Imagine Dragons’ ‘Radioactive’ was first released on alt radio before major labels picked it up.”

That musical debate mic drop leaves Stone speechless for a minute. He drags a hand through his shoulder-length hair, lingering through the strands, making me think for the briefest of seconds what it would feel like to run my hands through those dark-brown locks.

How it would be to tighten a fist around it. Tug it. Yank his head back.

I tell myself to settle down. What I really ought to be telling myself is to walk away. I should not sit here at this bar with him. I should not have a conversation with him where we’re simply talking.

Talking leads to feelings.

I have to stop believing this kind of talking is okay if it’s surface level.

None of these feelings for him are okay.

Especially not tonight.