Her grip was so tight I started losing feeling in my whole damn hand.
"Erm, Clarisse-you know what, can I call you Clare?"
She flipped to see my face, and nodded slowly before smiling sweetly.
"It sounds nice."
"Anyways, Clare, can you loosen your grip? My blood circulation is sort of cut off.." I trailed off awkwardly.
"Oh," her eyes widened, and she instantly let go, "I really am sorry."
"It's fine. I'm right here anyways, and I'm not leaving, really," I looked her straight in her blue eyes.
She brushed her hand against mine, a sign of appreciation.
We finally stopped at the pizza place, Eddie's. I made my way to the counter as she looked around, taking in the pizzeria. A large African-American man with pearly white teeth and lots of tattoos waved from behind the cashier.
"Phelps, my main man! How's it going?" he full out grinned at me.
"Great, Eddie, now-"
"Oh, and who's this dazzling young woman over here?" he pointed his head at Clare, who gave him a small polite smile.
He, in return, smirked at me, "Mikey, is there something you're not telling me?"
I laughed it off, "Eddie, she's just a friend. She's living with me because of certain tough circumstances."
Clare stopped looking around and stared at me openly.
She just sighed wistfully, "You're laugh is just so carefree. I wish mine was too."
I cleared my throat, not exactly knowing how to reply in situations like this, when someone compliments me, my mind just turns into a blank sheet of paper.
"What would you like to order, Clare?"
She tried to eye the counter, but failed. So she stood on her tiptoes, but with no avail. She huffed in annoyance, before settling down, as if angry at herself.
"You pick for me," she whispered, her mood changing once again. Eddie and I glanced at each other in concern, then back at her.
I figured she must've felt upset at being helpless and defensless. So I just smiled in sympathy and picked her up by the waist, despite her squeals of protest and tugs at my brown wavy hair.
"Shh! Not a word, look and tell me what looks nice. If you want any explanations, all you need to do is ask," I whispered lowly in her ear, and balancing her on my waist, so that she was clinging to me for dear life like an Australian koala. Only koalas are cuddly and definitely not barely-there sacks of skin and bones.
She bit her lip, seemingly afraid to ask, so I patted her head in reassurance.
She skimmed over the pizza samples, until her eyes landed on the cheese lovers'.
"What's this one, Mike?"
I smiled at the new nickname.
"It's basically dough with pepperoni and meat, but it's mostly just different types of cheese. You'll love it; no one does it like Eddie."
"May I please have a small one?"
"Eddie, get us 5 large cheese lovers', 2 for Ms.Clarisse and 3 for me. Extra mozzarella please on mine," I ordered quickly.
"Coming right up!" and so he disappeared behind the counter.
"But Mike, I just need a small one, rea-"
I clamped my firm hand on her tiny lips, successfully shutting her up.
"My treat, we need to get you in tip-top shape, like a healthy bunny," I replied simply, before setting her down on the floor once again.
She looked up at me with doe-like eyes, glistening with tears. Oh my God, I have a knack for making her cry.
But then she threw her bony arms around my waist, and sniffled in my shirt, warming up my heart instantly.
"Thank you. No one has ever done something so sweet and genuine for me or my benefit," she croaked out.
"Anytime, Clare. Just know that I am here to protect you and keep you safe and healthy," I gave her two thumbs up, "And judging from your sassy attitude earlier, I can tell that we're gonna be friends easily," I smirked at her.
She laughed lightly, before smirking back.
"There are a lot of things you don't know about me, Mr.Phelps. I have more than one kind of attitude."
"There you go again!" I chuckled, referring to the sass that was practically oozing from her.
Eddie returned with our pizzas, and I paid at the cashier to take our first meal together.
He looked back at Clare, then me, and sent me a look that I couldn't quite decipher, seeing as I had never seen him send it to me before.
"Take care, Mikey."
"Will do, Eddie man. You too," and then I walked out, balancing 5 stacks of pizza on one hand, while grasping Clare's frail little pale hand in the other to try and ease her fears ("Don't squeeze off my circulation this time, please and thank you.").
We walked quietly down the street.
"I hate messiness."
"Hm?" I paid her my full attention.
"Your house needs to get cleaned up a bit," she curled her lip at me.
"Fine, sometime this week. Today's a Sunday, so maybe on Saturday when I get my break."
"Where do you work?" she asked.
I tried to avoid the question.
"I don't exactly work. I just, need, like, a break from life."
Which technically wasn't a lie.
She nodded, completely unconvinced.
"I see. Well, Mike, hand me the keys so we can actually get in," she stretched her free hand out.
Of course, I couldn't just drop the boxes on the sidewalk. And I knew she still was slightly afraid of the streets, judging from the way she looked around her every once in a while, so I wouldn't think that she would appreciate it if I just abandoned her hand. She needed a protector, and I had willingly taken up the spot.
"It's in my left front pocket. Can you please get it?"
She silently made her way to the house, keys now in hand, and struggled to open the door.
"Just twist to the right, and pull towards you at the same time, and it would really help if you used both hands," I piped up from behind her, hoping to aid her.
Apparently it did the job, seeing her blonde bun bob up and down in self-satisfaction after letting go of my hand.
As soon as I entered, I set the pizza boxes on the dining table, and started regaining the feeling in my arms again.
I found her in the kitchen, admiring the marble and steel appliances.
"Would you like to eat now?"
She nodded, "Yeah, all right."
I lead her to the dining room, and we settled down in front of the now-abandoned fireplace, facing each other.
After saying a few prayers to the Lord, I smiled at her expectantly.
"Well, dig in!"
She started on her first slice tentatively, and as soon as she took her first miniature bite, her eyes widened as she groaned in satisfaction.
"Dish iz sho kood!" she breathed as she inhaled her second and third slices within record time.
I chuckled as she wolfed down the 2 pizzas by the time I was done with 3.
She looked up to find my gaze resting on her, and she blushed.
"I'm sorry, didn't know that I was this hungry."
"Clare, it's fine, reall-"
"No. I don't want you to feel as if you're forced to help me out or anything. I bet it's terrible to be looking after someone you don't even know," she shook her head.
"Listen. I knew what was in store for me when I took you up. And I haven't thought about backing out today or during the two days I had stayed with you at the hospital. And who knows? Maybe this friendship will make a difference, seeing as people always leave me," I gave her a sad half-smile.
"They always do, when they find out the real me."
Thankfully, she had no idea about the hidden meaning behind my words.
"I promise I won't leave. Trust a stranger," she smiled cockily.
I laughed at her expression, seeing as I rarely saw her looking confident, causing my brown hair to flop down on my face, the gel's effects over so soon. I huffed in annoyance and messed up my hair. I got nothing to lose, really.
"C'mon, Miss Stranger. Help me wash the dishes now."