I woke up early the next morning, as I always did, to go downstairs and feed my fish. I had read that they should be fed every 1-2 days, and I didn’t want to take any risks.
Most mornings I would go back to bed after feeding the fish, since it was still early, but today I was too wide awake to go back to sleep. The events of the previous day had come flooding back to me, and with them the doubt and confusion that had been swarming around my mind all night.
I decided to go out fishing to clear my mind, and tiptoed back upstairs to my room to get dressed. I pulled on my clothes from the day before, being careful not to wake Tyler, who was still sound asleep on the floor. I shut the door gently behind me, and began to tread carefully along the hallway.
“Where are you going?”
I jumped in shock and let out a tiny scream.
“Hey, hey, it’s okay, it’s just me!” said James’ voice from behind me. I felt his hands gently take hold of my shoulders, and my heart jumped into my throat at his touch.
“Are you all right?” he asked, his voice full of concern. “I’m sorry I scared you.”
I couldn’t concentrate on what he was saying. I had to get out of here.
“Yeah, I… I’m fine…”
“Are you sure? You’re shaking!”
“Yeah… I’m sorry, I… I have to go,” I stuttered, breaking free of his arms. I took off down the stairs and out of the house before he could follow me, running as fast as I could towards the beach at the bottom of the cliff. I desperately needed some time alone to sort out the jumbled mess in my mind.
I came to a halt when I reached the shore, staring at the ocean stretched out in front of me. I was still shaking – I didn’t know if it was because of the cold, or what had just happened.
I had never reacted this way with James before. I had always felt completely comfortable around him, and when he touched me… it didn’t mean anything. Just friends. That’s what I always told myself, and anyone else who asked. But since last night, and my conversation with Tyler, I didn’t know what to think any more. Her words kept repeating in my head. That boy is completely in love with you… it’s blindingly obvious.
My mind wandered back to the question she had asked me. How do you feel about him? Last night, I didn’t know the answer – I was so shocked by the revelation of his feelings for me. I still wasn’t sure, but I couldn’t lie to myself any longer. I knew that ‘just friends’ was no longer an option.
So then, what was an option? How did I feel about James? I had very little experience with relationships, so I had nothing to go on in trying to decipher my own feelings. The fact that it was even this hard in the first place was completely frustrating me.
Before last night, I hadn’t noticed anything strange about the way I instinctively responded to him, or him to me. Apparently I had misread what was going on at his end, but that didn’t mean that I didn’t know my own feelings. I didn’t have to feel the same way, I told myself. I could still think of him as just a friend.
And yet… the idea of being friends with James didn’t satisfy me now the way it once had. I had always felt that I had everything I wanted in life, until last night. Now, it was the way he said my name that made my cheeks grow hot… the way my heart skipped a beat every time he touched my hand… the sound of his laugh, his voice, that made me smile like nothing else could. People didn’t feel that way about their friends, I knew that much.
So, then, did that mean…?
I looked back out to sea again. A cold gust of wind hit me, making me shiver. I recalled the events of that morning, how he had held me protectively in his arms, trying to calm me… I wrapped my own arms around myself in recollection, without really realising what I was doing. When my mind caught up to my body, I blushed, and dropped my hands, but I knew it was too late. I couldn’t convince even my own stubborn brain to lie to itself a minute longer. Tyler was right – James did love me.
And I was pretty sure I loved him back.
By the time I returned home that afternoon, the morning’s snow had melted into rain, which was slowly washing away the light powder that had settled on the ground. It may or may not have been a coincidence that I arrived back at the house half an hour after James had left for work… but by the following morning everyone in the house was pleased to discover that I was back to my old self. Almost.
“So you’ll come?”
James had approached me to apologise for what had happened the day before. I assured him that it was in no way his fault, and he asked if I wanted to go with him to the Winter Festival in town on his day off.
“Sure,” I replied happily, trying to ignore the weakness in my knees as he smiled.
“Awesome, I’ll see you then.”
Friday morning thus found James and myself heading into the city together to visit the festival. I hadn’t been to this festival since I was a kid, so I had to admit I was a little excited. The weather had been fine when we had boarded the subway, but by the time we got to the park, it was pouring with rain.
Within a few minutes, we were both soaked through. So much for a great festival outing… we took all the trouble to get into the city, and now we were soaked with rain. Probably should have checked the weather forecast before we left.
I looked at James, who was obviously thinking the same thing, and we both burst out laughing.
“Guess we won’t be going to the festival then, huh?” I giggled.
“I guess not,” he replied, still laughing.
“Should we just go back home then?”
“Nah, since we’re here, I know somewhere else we could go. Come on.” He took my hand and started running down the street.
“But it’s raining!” I gasped, as I stumbled over my own feet trying to keep up. “I’m soaked!”
“That just means you can’t get any wetter!” he laughed. “Come on!” I held on tighter to his hand, and let him lead me through the streets of Bridgeport. Our feet slipped and splashed on the pavement as we ran, laughing like two teenagers. By the time we came to a stop at the end of a dead-end street, I was gasping for breath and wetter than I had ever been in my life.
“Where are we?” I managed.
“I don’t know what it’s really called,” James said, “but everyone just seems to know it as the butterfly park. I’m surprised you didn’t know it was here.”
So was I. I loved places like this, and I knew I had been around this area for fishing before. I couldn’t believe I had never noticed such a beautiful place.
“But it’s still raining,” I reminded him.
He shrugged, and grinned. “We’re already soaking wet anyway.”
We stood in silence for a few moments, while I desperately tried to find anything to stare at other than him. The only sound was the continuous pattering of rain on the brick path, and water dripping off the leaves.
Eventually, James spoke again.
“Listen, Bee, there’s… something I have to tell you.”
I tried to sound casual as I replied. “Oh, yeah?”
“Yeah…” he reached out, tentatively, and took my hands in his. I wasn’t sure that I had ever seen him act so nervous before.
“What is it?” My voice was so low, it was almost a whisper.
“I…” he seemed at a loss for words. “I don’t really know how to say something like this, or how to lead up to it or anything, so I… I’m just going to say it straight out.” He paused, and I held my breath, waiting. I tried to look him in the eyes, but I couldn’t focus on them for more than a few seconds, so I settled my gaze on his chest instead. I watched him take a deep breath, as though steeling himself, before he spoke again.
“I love you, Bianca.” My breath died in my throat on hearing the words. “I’ve loved you as long as I can remember, ever since we first met. I just… didn’t know how to tell you.”
Neither of us could look the other in the eye. I had known it… I think deep down I had realised it a long time ago, but I had never expected the way hearing him say it would make me feel. Or how hard it would be to say the words myself.
I knew he was waiting for my response. I took a small step forward, and another, until our faces were mere inches apart. Then I leaned forward, and gently pressed my lips against his.
I heard his breath catch, and his entire body froze up as I kissed him. His hand slipped out of mine, and I felt it slowly, tentatively, slip around my shoulders, and pull me closer to him. His lips parted slightly, and became soft, as he melted into the kiss. I wrapped my arms around his shoulders and held him close.
I never wanted this to end.
Eventually we pulled away from each other to catch our breath, but neither of us let go entirely. I had never felt so safe as I felt at that moment, wrapped in his arms.
“So…” he murmured.
“So,” I mocked him gently. He chuckled.
“You love me.”
I nodded, and smiled. “Yes, I do. And before you ask,” I added, “I’m completely sure.”
He laughed again. “You know me too well.”