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Light Up the Night All Around Us

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Colette realized she needed some help.

The issue was, it wasn’t exactly an easy thing to ask help for. That and she was probably overthinking it anyway! It was what couples did all the time, right? Well, maybe not all. But couples like her and Lloyd, if they wanted to… if Lloyd even wanted to.

She sat still on her bed, dressed in nothing but her underwear, feeling so unsure and lost about everything.

The city they moved to was new and frightening. There were so many subway lines to remember, and getting used to the constant stream of people walking the streets compared to their little town. But her university was close by, and though Lloyd wasn’t going to school, he moved with her anyway, bringing his small savings along to help with the rent. Much of it had been acquired through carpentry and working at his dad’s crafts shop. Colette had enough from her family, but she never said a word of that to Lloyd, glad he could come, wanting him to come. Their apartment was small, maybe a little ragged with the walls, and the heater didn’t always work, and the windowpanes still needed replacing which Lloyd promised he would get to really soon… but she wouldn’t trade if it meant she got to stay nearer to Lloyd than she ever could before.

She sighed. Not like she was helping herself on that front at all.

Gripping the coverlet one last time, she finally stood up, ready to head for the door out of her bedroom and into the hallway. She slept here while Lloyd insisted on choosing the living room and making the second-hand couch his bed. Although it wasn’t like they hadn’t slept on one bed before. And they had done that! Just slept, or cuddled, or tried to watch videos on Colette’s tiny laptop without accidentally pushing it off her knees. But she felt selfish. That wasn’t all she wanted.

She turned towards a mirror set up by a study desk. She studied herself, all the contours of her body, and found every imaginable flaw there. She had a weird bruise on her upper arm that she couldn’t at all remember how it had come to be there. Her hair was a little frizzy because of the recent humidity, prompting both her and Lloyd to crank the AC to full max, conveniently forgetting about the electricity bill. Even during the heat of summer, her skin was still so pale from spending so much time indoors for her classes. And underneath were eyes were small bags from so much late-night studying. She had plopped makeup on, but it hadn’t done much. She was never good with makeup anyway.

The only thing she could see was good about herself was the underwear she wore; both bra and panties decorated with small frills and of a light mix of sky-blue and white patterns. Except… her bra only accentuated how little she really had to show. She wrapped an arm around her chest, with her other laying across her stomach. She had been gaining weight, hadn’t she? She shook her head. She didn’t want to let her thoughts run like this! She just wanted to -

Sigh. Colette knew she had been gone for a while. Hopefully Lloyd was too busy with his game to notice…

The hour was a bit late, usually for her to sleep, and Lloyd probably assumed that was what she did. Once she finally opened the door, she heard the sounds of the television, but kept her eyes rapt on the wine-colored carpet that covered the length of the narrow hallway. To the very front was the door to her apartment, while to the side was the entrance that led into the living room.

She heard Lloyd make little groans of defeat as tinny music played. Oh, he was busy right now, wasn’t he? She should just abandon this and go to sleep! She had to arrive early tomorrow at the dog shelter anyway. Why did she think this was a good idea? Especially tonight?

“Genis, this is impossible!” Lloyd cried.

“Lloyd. Its blocks. I’m sorry blocks are too advanced for you.”

Colette froze. Oh, was Genis here? But wasn’t he still back in Iselia? She instantly wrapped her arms around herself, feeling so exposed. Wait, but his voice had sounded different. It took Colette a moment more to realize her old friend was on speaker, the phone most likely set on the couch. They must have been playing together. A shooter game, maybe? Those looked very difficult…

“Seriously! How are you doing all that so quickly? I can’t get rid of my rows that fast!”

“It’s just tetris! An actual little kid’s game, come on.”

Oh! She liked that one! She and Genis used to play that all the time!

Although she couldn’t really think on that for long. She was still out here, in the hallway, just barely dressed. She looked to her shoulder, suddenly noticing one of her bra straps was slightly torn. When did that happen…?

The signs were clear. Clearly, she was not meant to do this. To try and… seduce Lloyd. Just the thought of it made her flush red with embarrassment and her neck feel hot. This was the wrong to go about it, wasn’t it?

Bare feet walked across the carpet with trepidation. A soft swish of her footfalls as she leaned against a wall, hands brushing against her sides. Lloyd was busy, and talking with Genis. This was a bad time. A very bad time.

But… she had already come this far! And, even though she felt she still needed help with this, the truth was she had asked someone just the other day. One of her friends. Not Genis, as that would only make her feel so ashamed. Not Raine, even though she was an adult, as she had a feeling her old schoolteacher would just say something a bit too clinical instead of helping her with romance… She had tried to call Sheena, but the older girl hadn’t answered, most likely busy with family. So… she had gone to her very last phone contact on her list.

“Just get naked!” Zelos’ voice had rung so loud over her phone that she feared that she had somehow put it on speaker. But no. Zelos was just very excited. “Believe me. Guys love that. Girls too, actually. But yeah, just show your stuff and he’ll be all over you! Even Lloyd ain’t that clueless.”

“Just… like that?” she had questioned, sitting on the floor in a corner, knees bent near her face. The act of making herself as small as possible felt like it would make their conversation quieter too. But Zelos kept breaking the illusion by being as loud as ever. “Shouldn’t I maybe… take things slow?”

“You know, angel, usually I would agree. Romance is all about the slow dance and everlasting patience. Except Lloyd is as thick-headed as a rock. You’re gonna need to go in there, guns blazing. And by guns, I mean your boobs.”

“Ah! But…!”

“And your butt, too! Nice catch, Colette!”

Her heart had been beating so fast. She had only known Zelos since the start of her school year, along with Sheena, but had become fast friends with her and Lloyd. And he had dated so much in the past, so, he must know what he was talking about, right?

“Besides, you’ve been officially dating for like months by now, haven’t ya? It’s about time already! And to make sure you’re following my advice, I’m asking Lloyd on the details by the end of the week! So go get lucky, angel!”

Well, if that was the case, that meant she had no choice but to try this, right? Fists clenched, she steeled herself to go out there into the living room, determined to finally make Lloyd see her for all she was worth. And… and maybe he would like it! You can do it, Colette! she told herself. I just need to get out there! Right now! A pause. Right… right now!

She forgot then about Lloyd’s game, about Genis on speaker, about the fact that she was shivering. She gathered up as much confidence as she could, and headed for Lloyd.

…But she hadn’t realized how part of her foot had gotten caught underneath the carpet until it was too late. It had always been kinda loose, and it was not the first time she had tripped over it. So it was all very familiar, when she suddenly went tumbling to the floor, instantly reaching for the wall and knocking aside a little table and the dish where she and Lloyd would set down their keys. She, along with some objects, plopped to the ground, in full view of Lloyd who had stood up in reflex on hearing her fall. But also remained still once he saw her in the light of a nearby lamp.

“C… Colette…?”

“Hey.” Genis’ voice broke through the phone. “What happened? You just stopped moving your pieces!”

Ow. She had bashed her knee into the floor, so it hurt slightly. She barely lifted her head up before she heard Lloyd quietly say, “Sorry, gotta go,” fumbling with his phone as he did so, then go to Colette. “Are you okay? How come you’re…”

She was helped to her feet, Lloyd holding both her hands gently. His right hand still held the game controller, which he then seemed to realize and proceeded to set down on a small coffee table before holding her hand again. She could see that Lloyd was trying very hard to keep his eyes on her face.

Oh, this isn’t how she wanted it to go…

“I’m sorry,” she said, quickly leaving his hands and stepping back. She hugged her chest, feeling so stupid. “I… um… I didn’t mean… I’ll just go!”

“Colette, wait!” He reached for her shoulders, holding them tight. They felt a little damp. It must have been from playing his game, and she had just interrupted that… “I mean, it’s fine! And… um, I’m not complaining!” A grin. She noticed that his cheeks were red, too. Probably just embarrassed for her.

“I just… I wanted to do something different. And… something nice. Because, I really love you, Lloyd, and I wanted to show that I…” She hugged herself tighter. “But I’m just making it all weird instead.”

Lloyd didn’t say anything. Instead, his hands trailed from her shoulders to her folded arms, slowly extricating themselves from each other. Her chest was revealed once more, along with the bra that now seemed lopsided and wrinkled. Oh no. But Lloyd held her arms, gently. She didn’t really want to step away from that.

He embraced her suddenly, tightly. A small breath left her throat as she felt the softness of his shirt brush against her bare stomach. “You… must be pretty cold like that, huh?”

A small giggle. She leaned into his hair, her own hands finally reaching up to his back to curl her fingers into the fabric. “A little… the air conditioner is on high still, I think…”

His palms rushed over her skin, the friction feeling both nice and heated. Fingers made contact with the bra straps. She hoped he hadn’t noticed how damaged they looked. But he was looking down at her, face close, loosening their hug so he could see her. She was so close that she could see herself in his eyes. It wasn’t like the mirror, where everything that she could see was wrong needed to be covered up. She couldn’t explain it.

“You look really good, Colette,” he told her, still holding on. “You… you always do.”

She couldn’t even think that maybe that wasn’t right. That maybe she fooled him into thinking that, or lied to him somehow or something. The truthfulness of what he was saying struck hard at her chest, and she felt the threat of tears coming down. But he had kissed her before that, hands traveling across the open plain of her back, the rush of it almost too much.

“I meant… to do more than…” she tried to say, but Lloyd was all over her. He planted his mouth over her neck, and felt the warmth of his tongue. His hands went back to her bra, slowly, carefully, pulling the straps down. His movements held an excitement that she had only vaguely known. From nights seated together at the couch, watching late movies and curled by the other. She would lay her head against his chest, feel his fingers rap against her arm, both content but also… something else. Even before they had ever moved here, counting the stars from the porch of her house – something that she missed now living in the city – their hands close, and the drifting fireflies making the expanse of the surrounding woods more darker and softer than before.

He seemed to realize what he was doing then, hands stopping their exploration, though still on her. They were warm, they made the chill of their apartment easier to bear. “I, uh… got a little carried away.” He smiled, but she noted the change in his voice. Softer. It reached underneath her skin and moved through her bones in the most pleasant way. “It’s just, I usually only imagine this kind of thing…”

Somehow, his sudden nervousness made Colette brave. Her hands reached behind his head, threading through his hair. “Hm, you don’t have to imagine now,” she said, then gently brought him forward, toward her bare chest. Goosebumps raised over her skin. It must have been from the cold.

His mouth was still so warm, and though she gasped at the contact, she only arched her back, falling deeper into him. His hands resumed their wanderlust over her – over the hem of her underwear in particular. She never wanted his tongue to stop tracing over her, but she wondered if maybe it would be easier somewhere else…

Lloyd kissed her cheek, his hands over her chest, taking the place of where his lips were, so that she could still stay warm. “Your legs are shaking a little… Did you wanna sit?”

She nodded, her throat full of emotion and started to lead him back to her room. “I’ll try not to trip again,” she said with a smile. He had gone into her room countless times, but the image of him walking through her doorway, eyes full of admiration for her body and more, made her feel weak in such an addictive way. The lamps were dim here, casting shadows over the curve of her hips that Lloyd was already tracing with his fingers.

“You dork,” he told her, breathless, and kissed her cheek, her neck, her lips all in succession. He didn’t stop once they reached her bed, once she felt all of him and tried to keep him warm in return. Hands over a back, between thighs, and a soft mouth to make the other moan. It was easier than she had thought, as if both of them had been waiting for a signal before taking this next step. She always thought she made more mistakes than good choices, but this time, she knew she had made the best choice she could ever hope for.