Authors: Hannah; Kay
Tags: #Young Adult Fiction
I coughed, rubbing the back of my neck with my hand. “Well,” I mumbled, turning my eyes back to Lucas. “This is awkward.”
His eyes snapped suddenly into focus on me, dark orbs grinning back as he let out a slow chuckle. “It really is.” He smiled then, seeming suddenly aware of something I couldn’t identify. “Want to come in?”
I nodded. Frankly, it was hot and humid. Plus we were deep in the forest and I swear everything smelled like chlorophyll and recycled carbon dioxide. “That’d be good.”
We shuffled inside and I was startled by the room we were currently standing in. It seemed larger than the outside of the house, but I had seen many places that were bigger than they appeared. The bigger surprise was the décor. It was ten times as modern as my dad’s house and had been occupied by only Mike’s granddad for years. “Wow,” I commented quietly, doing a three-sixty turn to look around.
He chuckled, bobbing his head in agreement. “That’s what I said.” He eyed the pizza box in my hands. “Want me to take that to the kitchen?”
“Yeah, that’d be great.”
He smiled, taking it. “Well, make yourself at home.”
Once he’d disappeared down the hallway, I walked over to the couch and sat in the center, crossing one of my legs over the other. The remote to the giant flat-screen mounted on the wall had been tossed half haphazardly to the side at our arrival, and I took it in my hands, flipping it on mindlessly. I wasn’t convinced there would be any signal out here—after all, the radio in my car had been playing nothing but rough static for forty miles—but was surprised when a list of at least a hundred channels spilled out at my disposal.
“Julie, I promise I had nothing to do with this,” Krista announced as I channel-surfed Grandpa Fisher’s flat-screen. She sat beside me, blonde tresses now pulled into a messy bun, and I sighed, imagining her thrusting the hair into a knot out of irritation with her boyfriend during their little chat. “If you want to leave, I completely understand. He planned this, I guess, but you really don’t have to stay.”
I glanced down at the bag still waiting at my feet then back up at her. She looked genuinely disappointed at how things had turned out and I felt bad for her. I think she’d really been trying to do something nice. I smiled. “Hey, don’t worry about it. I want to stay. This way I’ve got a buffer,” I joked, smiling.
She grinned back. “Exactly! This will be good. I promise!” She laughed quietly. “I should’ve known Mike was up to something. He actually suggested this.”
I shook my head. “Never trust men.”
“Hey, don’t be like that, Jules!” Mike announced, flopping onto the couch to drape an arm around Krista. “I come bearing nachos!” He held up the bowl he was holding, flashing a smile my way.
I just shook my head, eyeing Mike’s arm. “Buffer, oh buffer… Wherefore art thou buffer?” I called, amused by my own bad joke.
Krista laughed—maybe out of pity, but it was hard to tell. “Lucas! Get your butt back in here!”
* * * *
Hours ticked by, spent laughing and watching TV and chomping on Mike’s specialty nachos. It felt good to be there. Okay, it felt good to have friends—or at least feel like I did. I hadn’t felt this good, this real, this alive since my mom died. So, as the hands of the grandfather clock on the wall ticked along, moments passed, eclipsed like hours and tumbled to the feet of sunset.
Mike and Krista ended up asleep on the opposite side of the couch from me. Lucas had gone to make popcorn and they’d been dozing in and out of unconsciousness for a while when the predictable voices and sounds of
played their lullaby and ultimately took them. Krista’s head was resting dreamily on Mike’s shoulder and his arms were draped around her waist. Myself, I was wide awake, hands cradling a can of Diet Coke from the store of thousands of soft drinks in the mini fridge built into the coffee table.
I heard Lucas coming. He shuffled his feet when he walked, probably because he was self-conscious—or he seemed it at least. I turned to look at him through the near-black room—lit only by the television—and smiled. My eyes zeroed in on his figure, holding the popcorn bowl. He walked forward and looked over the edge of the couch. He chuckled, shaking his head. “This always happens,” he murmured, laughing, then turning to me. “There’s a TV in our room, if you’d like to resume this there.” He didn’t say it in a creepy stalker-boy way. Instead it sounded like a friendly offer, an offer that included being able to munch on popcorn and chit-chat and pop tops on more Coke without worry of waking our sleeping companions.
I nodded. “Sounds good.” I gathered my bag and my Diet Coke before pulling a couple more from the fridge and winking at him. “It might be a long night.” I didn’t mean it in a bad way, but with a
marathon, cans of Coke up the wazoo and that enticing bowl of popcorn calling my name—not to mention Lucas, but there was no defining
so I chose not to think about it—I wasn’t planning on going to sleep soon.
He grinned in response, offering me a hand. When my eyebrow lifted questioningly, he chuckled. “It’s going to be dark when you turn off the light, and you’ve never been back there.” He flashed a genuine grin my way. “You don’t want to wake them, do you?”
I stifled a laugh but shook my head. My right hand extended to intertwine with his while the other gripped the remote firmly. His hand was surprisingly strong for such a small frame—from all the writing? It was warm against my palm and I flipped off the TV.
His hand led me through the darkness, recreating the path earlier overtaken by the luminescent light of Monica’s apartment. We walked in time with a slow heartbeat, the tick of a metronome or the clock on the wall. It was alive and we followed it through the hallway until his hand hit a doorknob. He pushed it open and suddenly we were standing bathed in moonlight. It was full and round, an innocent moon, the color of wonder or childhood dreams.
I looked up at him again and he was smiling. His eyes met mine again. “Window open or closed?” he asked me, walking over to flip on the TV. The room was big, one bed against two of the four walls and the TV positioned awkwardly in front of one of the beds.
“Leave it,” I answered, casting my eyes to the window again before sighing quietly and setting my things at the foot of the bed. I reached forward, untying the bow on my coat, and felt him watching me. “What?”
He chuckled awkwardly. “I’ve just never seen you without your coat.”
It was a simple reply, I guess. Probably not the only one, either. I let it go, though, slipping my arms from the blue fabric and gingerly stretching the coat over the end of the bed. “It was my mother’s coat,” I admitted, sliding down onto the floor and leaning my head back against the bed’s mattress.
He was silent then he was beside me, a stack of pillows in hand. “I heard about that…” he began, holding out a pillow to me and I began to take it, but he shook his head. “Let me.”
I leaned forward and he tucked the pillow behind me, cushioning my body more comfortably before looking at me again.
“I’m really sorry.”
Then I noticed his kind eyes. They looked like the kind of eyes that had not only seen pain but also lived it—the kind of eyes you could look into for ages without tiring of them because they were so expressive. Windows to the soul, as the old cliché went.
“Thanks.” My voice was a whisper in the silence and I heard the pitter-patter of rain against the roof overhead. I cut the sound on the TV, flipping manually through the channels because I was too lazy to find the remote.
He nuzzled the bowl of popcorn into the space between us and I popped the top on my drink. The silence that brewed between the two of us was different from the silence I’d experienced before with him. Now, the air was thinner and neither of us felt the impulsive need to fill it. We laughed along with the gang’s antics on screen and made the occasional comment, but that was about it. It was just quiet and really nice.
I was partially aware that I was falling asleep, but mostly I was just happy. My eyes flittered unnaturally open and closed to the steady drum of rain on the roof and the quiet voices from the TV. It seemed like they were getting farther away, though, like they were moving away from me and Lucas, because it was just us and the rain and the moon as I drifted off to sleep, and it felt better than any dream I could have asked for.
Sunshine flooded my senses suddenly the next morning. It was harsh and demanding on my exposed skin, burning into the back of my neck. I blinked, eyes adjusting to the searing light so I could appraise my position.
I was sprawled out across the floor of the room like I’d crashed over in the night. I sat slowly, still blinking my eyes erratically, until I saw her. She looked beautiful, hair tousled with sleep and white T-shirt displaced only an inch, revealing a slither of the already-tan summer skin of her stomach. She was right beside me, facing the sun and lying a few inches closer to the wall, but one of her hands was resting so close to my leg that I could feel the heat radiating off her palm.
I clawed my way to my pocket and yanked my phone from it, senselessly pulling it to me to check the time. There was probably a clock in the room but I didn’t want to jostle Julie while she slept so peacefully. Eight-twenty-nine. I decided there was no reason to be awake at this hour. Silently, I wiggled down, curling my legs under the bed just enough so I could hide my skin from the eager, waking sun.
Burrowed there, I was acutely aware of how close we were. I hadn’t done it on purpose, but by sliding down to avoid the morning sunshine, I’d slid closer to her. Now her face, eyes closed and smiling lips, was merely inches away from mine. Her hand was just grazing the fabric of my shirt, sending silent shocks through my body.
I smiled, closing my eyes and allowing my thoughts to shimmer away. Lights and sounds dimmed. Thoughts blurred and so did consciousness. I drifted to dreams like a boat to shore, wavering back and forth like the wobble of said boat against the current of the water. It was a lulling image, a slow trill then I was gone.
* * * *
Krista’s gasp woke me, but I hadn’t quite processed it until I heard Mike’s wolf whistle. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Mike, but he could also be a pig. Then I heard him groan as I shifted in my sleep. Krista must have hit him. I seriously loved that girl.
I groaned, rousing from my sleep, and suddenly it hit me. My arms were carved around her. We must’ve melded together in our fit of early morning, lackluster sleep. Her head was nuzzled into my T-shirt. She was still sound asleep. I could hear her soft breathing, the inhalation and exhalation and even the soft thump of her heart against my ribcage.
My eyes darted up to look at Krista and Mike, who were still standing there watching. Krista’s mouth hung agape while Mike was grinning broadly at me. He had that big I-told-you-so smile perched on his hard features.
I swallowed, mentally debating on how to get out of this without looking creepy, but her eyelids were slowly fluttering open. It was a tiny flicker at first, then full bloom and her gorgeous green eyes were staring at me. I could see her calculating. Her eyes grew slowly, pupils dilating then contracting. “Morning,” I greeted somewhat awkwardly, recoiling my arms from where they’d been sheltering her.
She sat up slowly, rubbing her head. “Morning.” She glanced up at Krista, then at Mike, then back down to me. “We fell asleep,” she told them, gesturing to the popcorn bowl and TV with a quiet laugh. There was something in her eyes, though. I couldn’t quite define it, but it was there. Like overnight something had changed, even if barely anything. It was as if now a window had opened—a small one, but it was there. Like maybe—just maybe—now I had a chance.
There was an awkward beat of silence as we stretched our bones without really moving. Krista then laughed, hedging her way into the silence. “We did too! What a coincidence.” She swooped over and took Julie’s hand, pulling her from the room.
I exhaled, looking up at Mike. “You’re a weasel,” I commented, standing up and grabbing the bowl of popcorn from the ground and tossing the Coke cans into its contents. I shoved past him into the kitchen, but he followed after me.
“A weasel?” he countered, lifting a bushy eyebrow at me.
I shook my head. He was mocking my reference, but I didn’t care right now. I could still feel her in my arms as we slept. It was vivid now, the memory of her cuddled to my chest and it wouldn’t stop. “Yes. You’re a weasel,” I replied simply, as I sat the bowl into the sink, after dumping the contents in the trash can.
He chuckled, nodding and raiding the cabinets. “I can’t find any breakfast.”
I chuckled. “Since when does that matter?” I pulled the pizza from the fridge. “Pizza and coffee. Breakfast of champions.”
* * * *
That night when I pulled up in front of my house, I cruised inside, past Clara who was standing in the doorway of the kitchen, past Mom, who was vacuuming, and past Dad, who was working in his home office diagonal from my room. I sat at my desk, turning from my waiting laptop for pen and paper.
“What’re you doing, big brother?” Clara asked, leaning against the door frame, still holding her bowl of ice cream. She was wearing a T-shirt over her bikini, per usual summer uniform, hair drying in loose, wet curls around her face.
My eyes lifted from the paper slowly. “Do you need something?” I replied, not wanting to stop or think or wait. I just wanted to write.
She smirked, spooning ice cream into her mouth and making a show of licking the spoon, prolonging the time we stared each other down. “Where have you been?”