“You live alone?”
“Yeah.” Unlocking the door, he stepped aside to let her in first. Closing the door after them, he slipped his shoes off before hanging his keys on the hook by the door.
“My father’s English, and my parents moved to London a couple years back. I decided to stay, so I live alone.”
He caught her looking around, her surprise over the cleanliness evident. Slipping off his jacket, he lay it over the back of a stool. Washing his hands in the kitchen sink, he asked her if she wanted anything to drink.
“Just some water.” Setting her bag down by the sofa, she skimmed through the worn spines of the nearby bookshelf. He was considerably well-read for someone who claimed to find school useless. But maybe that was only to be expected; what had Milly said that day? That he had used to be a model student?
But then she found the half-empty bottle of Jack Daniel’s next to a vape pen, and she was reminded of the “used to” part all too strongly. Settling down on the sofa, she stared at her toes in their black stockings until he set a glass of water down before her.
He sighed before muttering something or other about always forgetting to clean up after his drunken self. Taking a sip from his own glass, he crossed his legs.
“I used to smoke, but I’ve been trying to wean myself off nicotine by vaping.”
“Are you telling the truth or is this just like one of those ‘I need medicinal marijuana for my headaches’?”
“I should have a picture of my blackened lungs somewhere around here. Would you like to see it?”
They sat in silence for some time with neither wanting to really start the biology project. Leaning back into the sofa, she brought her knees closer and tucked them under her chin. The quiet trickled by as they sat together in what one could tentatively call comfortable silence, when she said softly, “Do you miss your parents?”
“…Not particularly. My mother, maybe. But never my father.”
He shrugged. “Just because I’m of his blood doesn’t mean I’m of the same mindset. To be honest, he was one of the reasons I stayed behind; no one really said it, but there’s no doubt that everyone thought putting some distance between him and myself was in everyone’s best interest.”
He was never this open with other people about his family. Not even Kallen, whom he’d been seeing for the past three-and-a-half years, had been able to get any answers out of him this easily. But as they sat there on the sofa, the late afternoon light filtering in past the curtains and illuminating the dust floating in the air, with her only an arm’s reach away and the sun glinting off her pretty hair, and a sort of strange intimacy born from the past several weeks keeping them strung together away from any awkwardness, he found it easy to explain why and how and when – something that had never happened before in his life and surprised him just as much as it surprised her.
“Is that why you are the way that you are?”
“What are you implying?”
She glanced up from the ice water she’d been studying to see the twinkling in his eyes as he tried not to smile at her. Unable to stop herself from smiling back, she hid her face from him before softly saying, “You’re strange. You know that?”
“Not any more than you.”
And they smiled at one another from the opposite ends of the sofa, a safe distance separating them from any other impulses or reckless – albeit beautiful, wonderful, amazing – wrongs they might commit in that special kind of rush one only experienced when in the same room as their other half.
. . .
“So, how was the date?”
“It wasn’t a date,” she said flatly. Of course, Milly would remain in the dark about how she’d left his apartment at midnight, or how he’d made dinner (which had been surprisingly good for an 18-year-old boy), or how when he’d dropped her off at home, his hands had lingered for a second too long. But her best friend had known her for so long now, even if she didn’t tell her, she could already figure out the important part – the fond memory that last night had become – and immediately went to work to tease her over it.
“It was just for some stupid project.”
“Oh, sure, okay. So that’s all you two did, right? All night long? Cloistered in his room, alone for hours? You only worked like the good students you two are, right?”
“Yes.” She stood by her story, refusing to fold. So what if there had been a couple times when her heart had beat a little faster than usual? Milly didn’t have to know.
“Okay… If you say so…”
Shaking her head, she muttered something or other under her breath about how crazy her friend was, when a familiar figure turned the corner. Smiling, he winked at her. C.C. only coolly stared back at him, though her eyes clearly showed her amusement over his wordless greeting. A faint smile lighting up her face, she studied the pattern of the hallway flooring.
No, no one needed to know. For now, she was just fine with it just being the two of them, with their secret looks and mysterious smiles. Two was company, but any more was a crowd after all, and God only knew how much she hated those.
No, this was perfectly fine. This, she could work with. This, she could grow to love.