As I pick up the last discarded cup on the corner table I glance out of the corner of my eye. Jake is cleaning off the coffee table. He’s the only one left. We’re alone. Why was he still here? “Thanks for helping.” I stand and smile at him.
“No problem.” He surveys the room, “You need it. I thought this kind of mess only happened when there was actual drinking involved.”
I purse my lips. I don’t like the implication that he’s been to those parties. Who am I kidding? I know he’s been to those parties, I just don’t want it to be true. Deep breath. Keep it light, “Nope. Kids are slobs with or without alcohol.” I pause and place my hand over my chest and give him my most overly sympathetic face possible with a dash of shock to get the point across, “I’m so sorry! Did you somehow think we were perfect? I’m sure we dashed that preconception tonight. Now you won’t ever want to hang out with us again!” I fake pout.
He gives me that half smile that sends tingles down my spine. How does he do that? He’s all the way across the room! “I don’t know, I suppose I can stand one more gathering…as long as you’re there.”
Um. Did he just say that? I think dumbfounded is the appropriate term for what I am experiencing. Honestly, no words will form. He’s standing there looking perfect and waiting for my reply. I open my mouth to say something, but I have no response to that. He’s not… We’re not… I mean, we’re friends. That’s it. I finally manage a lame, “I usually am,” before I turn to drop the cups into the trash and proceed to the plates on the floor next to the chairs. I can’t hear him. Is he still standing there, or did he start picking up again? I strain my ears, but it’s hard to hear over the beating of my heart doing double time through my veins.
Get a grip! I’m sure it was just harmless flirting. No big deal. I take another deep breath and stand with my arms full, and he’s there – right in front of me. I’m embarrassed that I inhale sharply and jump a little – maybe a lot. He drops his armload into the trash and reaches out to steady me. His hands on my arms do not steady me. Goosebumps spread from point of contact to, well, everywhere. My mouth goes dry and I feel like I can’t get enough oxygen. He’s a plate away from me and looking at me like, well, like he wants to – no, that’s not possible. I must be reading him all wrong.
His eyes go from concerned to soft and he smiles a real smile – one of those that spreads sunshine through my veins and wraps the world in welcome. He lets go of me and takes the plates out of my hands and drops them in the trash. Now there’s nothing in between us. He takes a step forward, “I meant what I said, Brooke.”
He’s not actually touching me, but I have never been more physically aware of anyone in my entire life. It’s like I can feel him through the air. Like sound waves bounce around and you hear them from across the room, he’s giving off some sort of vibration my body is interpreting. I feel like I need to step back so my brain can start working again, but I can’t seem to make my body do what I’m telling it to. “What do you mean?” I manage to whisper. I can’t actually look him in the eyes, but looking at his chest just makes me want to reach out and touch it. I can see his firm muscles underneath the midnight blue t-shirt he’s wearing. It looks soft.
“Look at me.” I shake my head slightly. I’m afraid. He lifts his hand to my chin and gently tilts it so that I have no choice. Sure, I could refuse – I doubt he’d push hard – but my body only seems to want to do what he wants rather than what I am telling it. His finger is soft and warm, but I can feel the guitar callous on his fingertip. Where is the oxygen in this room? And I am now way too warm. My eyes finally succumb to the direction of my head and I find myself looking into his eyes. “That’s better.” His eyes search my face and his thumb starts gently rubbing along my jaw line. Fire and ice simultaneously blossom across my cheek and down my spine.
I close my eyes to try to get myself under control.
“No. Please. I want to see your eyes.” He leans in and closes the distance between us to a millimeter (or at least that’s how it feels). He cups my face in both his hands, his pinky fingers tingling a particularly sensitive spot just behind my ears.
My mouth opens involuntarily and my eyes fly open at the shock of it.
“Brooke. If I wasn’t clear before, I want to be very clear now. You have hypnotized me. I think about you all the time. Your smile. The crinkle in your eyes when you laugh. The way that piece of hair falls into your face and you impatiently brush it back. Your thoughtfulness – about everything. Your kindness to everyone you meet. The way you like to dance down the hall instead of just walk. Your joy. You are infectious and I want to be near you all the time.”
That’s not something I hear everyday. Okay, I’ve never heard it. Ever. I don’t know what to say. ‘Thank you’ seems trite. “Wow. I’d want to hang out with me to.” Is what I manage to say. Nice.
Jake threw his head back and laughed. I watched his neck muscles contract and that adam’s apple thing moving and I just wanted to lean in and see how it felt against my lips. Whoa. “You see!” He continued, startling me out of the impulse, “You never say what I expect! How can I make this more plain? Go out with me, Brooke. I want you to be my girlfriend.”
Again, that’s never happened to me before either. Well, assuming you don’t count the check yes or no note I had passed to me in social studies in fourth grade. Boys just don’t go around asking me out. I wasn’t prepared. “Um,” is all I manage, which is pretty impressive considering the circumstances. He leans closer and I can feel the heat of his breathing against my face. He smells of peppermint mixed with his musky cologne. It’s intoxicating. I close my eyes and just breathe it in.
“That wasn’t an answer.” I can hear the smile behind his words, let alone feel the movement of his lips just across the void.
“I’m not allowed to date yet,” came out of its own accord. That isn’t what I wanted to say, but it’s true nonetheless.
“Hmmm.” His hand moves from my cheek to cradle the back of my head and the other hand traces fingertips down my neck and arm, sending chills and making my legs feel like jelly, to finally grasp my hand. “I suppose we can wait a couple months to make it official.” He leans in closer and my heart is about to explode out of my chest when the front door opens. We jump apart.
My parents are home. They’re laughing as they come through the door, then their eyes rest on us and they both go silent. They just stand there staring. I must have the most surprised/guilty face ever seen on anyone. I clear my throat, “Welcome home. We were just, um, cleaning up. How was the show?” I smile a frightened little unsure smile and my dad purses his lips and swallows.
“We had a great time.” He looks around now, “Looks like you did to.” He turns back to Jake, “Thanks for your help, but we can take it from here.” He holds the door open for him and raises his eyebrows.
“Yes, Sir.” Jake mumbles as he nods his head. He glances at me for a moment before walking out the door.