Simon's got a self-satisfied smile lighting up his face, and on a scale from dying to punch him to dying to snog him, I'm resolutely on the side of snogging.
"I'm serious; you'd make a great vampire," he teases. "You've got the whole dark and brooding thing going for you."
I raise a single eyebrow at him. "The whole dark and brooding thing?"
"You know what I mean. You have that vibe, with your black hair, and your widow's peak, and your nose."
"You're the one who cocked up my nose, Snow," I growl.
"I like your nose," he says earnestly. "It gives your face character."
"Character is a code word for unattractive." I scowl at him, suppressing the instinctive urge to cover my face. My nose was large before he punched me, but now it's large and crooked—taking over my face, leaving a permanent scar to remember Simon Snow by.
He guffaws, and I'm even more offended. That is, until he says, "Unattractive is the last word I'd use to describe you, Baz."
I can't help the blush that crawls up my neck. He's smiling from ear to ear, his single dimple prominently cratered on his right cheek. His delight is contagious; it's nearly impossible to fight my grin.
He's so bright, so beautiful, I can hardly stand to look at him. I look up instead; the sky is starting to shift from black to blue. We've surely loitered in the park for at least an hour now—a criminal detour I would have scoffed at before the events of tonight. But, for once, I have no complaints. Nothing—not the cold, the late hour, or even the larceny—has a chance of dampening my good mood.
I take a deep swig from the wine bottle. I'm fighting my urge to say something shitty or run from him or do any of the other foolish things I always do. "Surprisingly," I say slowly, the sweet wine loosening my tongue, "tonight actually turned out to be halfway decent fun."
"Yeah?" he asks, searching my face to check for sincerity. When he decides I mean it, his eyes light up like Father Christmas's appeared in front of him with a bag of loot. "I knew I could get you to like me," he says with a huff of laughter, not at all realising what a tremendous understatement that is.
I'm afraid the words I love you might slip off my tongue. There's been a hundred times I've been tempted to tell him how I really feel about him—but the instinct feels almost urgent now. Why am I even bothering to try to hide how happy he makes me anymore? This night has been better than I ever could have hoped for—the Uber mixup and this crazy detour through Hyde Park with Simon Snow is the very definition of a blessing in disguise. It's the one last chance I was hoping for.
I should tell him the truth. That I'm just bad with my emotions, that I never meant any of my cruelty, that all my bullshit was just a shitty defense mechanism.
I should say: Simon, I fancy you something rotten.
I clear my throat, and take a steadying breath. "Simon, I—"
He cuts me off. "Shhh!" he hisses, grabbing my forearm roughly.
"Wha—" I start, but he throws his uninjured hand over my mouth. I try to complain against his palm, but he clamps his hand tighter over me and shushes me again.
"Come here," he demands, gripping at my shirtsleeve with his other hand. I follow his eyeline to a tall man in black with a flashlight and "Security" emblazoned across his chest, and let Simon pull me out of sight, into the shadows. He drags me—one hand still covering my mouth, the other wrapped around my wrist—behind an oak tree, a grand one with low-hanging branches and forest green leaves.
"Quiet!" he insists in a poor attempt at hushed tones.
I push his hand off my mouth. "Bit rich coming from you," I whisper. (I can't help being contrary.) "Aren't you banned from the campus library because you insist on making a theatrical production out of reading?"
He pushes me against the tree by my shoulders, and then he's leaning against me, touching me everywhere—from our knees to our hips to our chests.
My heartbeat pounds in my eardrums. We've never been pressed so close together. My body is reacting to the proximity, and I'm sure he can feel me shaking against him. I hope he attributes it to the cold and not what it really is—a mixed cocktail of nerves and excitement and anticipation burning through my veins.
"Be quiet," he growls, low and breathy.
Before I can stop myself, I whisper back the single most sexually charged phrase in the English language: "Make me."
The oxygen between us has gone electric, and the passion overwhelms me. Fuck, that was forward , I think. Is he going to realise I want him to shut me up with his mouth on mine?
He licks his bottom lip and my gaze catches on the movement. I'm aching to close the gap between us, damn the consequences.
The way he's looking at me right now… I think he might just let me.
I'm still gathering my courage to lean in when the brave motherfucker sticks his tongue in my mouth.
Baz tastes like strawberries and sweetness.
I've got my good hand resting on the tree bark beside his head and my wrapped hand cupping his sharp jawline, feeling his stubble under my thumb. He usually shaves first thing in the morning, so feeling the rough prickle on my fingertips is a surprise. Everything about this kiss is a surprise—a revelation. The chemistry between us is crackling with such dynamite passion feels like it might light me on fire.
I've always felt like I might explode around him, but this is the first time it's been a good thing. Such a good thing. Like the answer to the question I didn't realise I needed to ask.
I don't know how I ever thought Baz was uptight—he certainly doesn't snog like a prude. Right now, it's like I can taste his hunger, his desperation, his want, and I'm right there with him. I want him.
Have I always wanted him?
An image of the first time I saw him pops into my head—I remember the tightness of his trousers and the way his hair was tied in a loose bun and the feeling I got in my stomach when I held out my hand to shake his and saw how pretty his grey eyes were—and I think yes, I've always wanted him.
If the way his hands are searching my body—eager and frenzied and determined—are anything to go off, I'd bet he wants me too.
Simon Snow is kissing me like it's his final move on a battlefield—an impulsive, bold last chance at a truce. And I've completely surrendered over to him, laid down my weapons and waved the white flag. I'm totally, completely his.
When he pulls back, he's gasping for air (right in my face, the damned mouth breather). I'd comment on his disheveled appearance—except I doubt I look much better.
I'm not sure what to say—what statement could possibly follow up the best kiss I've ever had?
Luckily, Snow can always be trusted to prattle on.
"So, uh," he starts, his voice a seductive rasp. He swallows the roughness of his throat down in a showy gesture, his Adam's apple bobbing on his neck. "I think the coast is clear by now. The security guard's probably gone."
I can't help it; that unexpected follow-up shocks a genuine laugh out of me—an unattractive, snorty sound that only my family is accustomed to hearing. It gets Snow chuckling too, and a wide grin breaks his face in two.
He brushes a strand of hair behind my hair and kisses me again—soft and slow this time. I know it's probably just wishful thinking, but it almost feels like a promise.
"C'mon," Simon whispers against my lips. "Let's go back home."
We keep walking, hopping the park fence and making our way down the empty streets of Kensington. We stop more than once to snog along the way, so it takes us twice as long to close the distance. When we finally make it to the arched entrance of Beit Hall, it's nearly dawn. I almost ask Baz if he wants to go up to the roof and wait for the sunrise; but the last time we kissed, he yawned directly into my mouth, so I'm guessing he'd rather sleep.
I hit the button for our floor in the lift, and then reach for his hand. He lets me interlace our fingers—and in the yellow fluorescent light, I can see he's blushing about it. I get a rush of pride that I can affect him like this—I've always liked that I'm able to get a rise out of him, but this is so much better. I massage little circles over his thumb while we wait for our floor.
I won't let go of his hand, even after I've opened our door and led us inside our shared bedroom. I pull him in for one more kiss, and he snogs me back instantly. (He has, every time I've done it. It keeps taking my breath away with awe.)
We go into our ensuite together, because Baz insists I redress my cut with an actual bandage rather than a random bloke's T-shirt. (He's being overdramatic, it's just a scratch—but I let him play doctor anyways, because I like it when he's touching me.) Afterwards, we brush our teeth side by side. It's something we've not done in the ten months we've lived together, and I'm taken aback by the casual domesticity of it all.
While Baz is still washing his face in the loo, I quickly change and then crawl into my bed. The night catches up with me as my head hits the pillow. When Baz finishes up in the ensuite, I'm only seconds from drifting off, but his footsteps jolt me back from the edge of dreaming.
I lift my arm and stretch my hand towards him, even though he's out of reach. "C'mere," I slur, my voice thick with sleepiness.
"Snow," I hear him say, "you only have a twin bed."
"Don't care," I respond, opening my eyes. He's changed into his pajamas, and all the gel has been shaken loose from his hair (most of which was my doing). He looks so handsome it twists at my heart and forces the truth out of me. "Want you."
He sighs, seemingly exasperated. But he's got this amused glint in his eye, and with a swoop in my stomach like I'm on a roller coaster, I realise he looks genuinely enamored—with me.
"Fine," he says. He doesn't manage to sound very reluctant, since he's smiling softly. I pull back the covers and he lets me envelop him into my arms. I fall asleep in moments with my arm around his waist.
I'm woken by the sound of girlish screaming.
"Holy fucking shit!" Penny curses, startling me out of sleep. She's standing at our door, in long overalls and her curly hair tied up on a bun, with her hand over her mouth in a show of shock.
Baz jerks away from me so hard that he rolls straight off the bed and onto the carpet.
Penny bursts out into uncontrollable giggles, clutching her stomach as the sound spills out of her. Baz responds with a nasty scowl.
"Bunce, why have you broken into our bedroom?"" Baz says, his tone dripping with contempt. (Pretty bold coming from the guy that broke into Hyde Park with me just last night, who's now sprawled out on the floor with bedhead and the imprint of my arm on his cheek.)
Penny just holds up her key card—the copy I gave her a month into autumn term last year. I had locked myself out of my room about a half dozen times when I decided to just get a spare from tech support. I never told Baz about it, because I was sure he'd be miffed—and I was clearly right on that, considering he's turned his glare onto me.
"Replicating key cards is against the Beit Hall Code of Conduct," he says haughtily, before standing up from the ground and dusting off his knees.
I'm scrambling for a response, but before I can think of one, he storms off into the ensuite, slamming the door shut behind him.
Penny clears her throat, and when I turn my gaze over to her, she gives me her Cheshire Cat smile.
"Told you getting an Uber with Baz wouldn't kill you," she says smugly, plopping down on Baz's bed. (He hates when she does that—which is probably why she insists on doing it. She's just as contrary as he is.)
"Y-yeah, I guess so," I say, running a hand through my hair. I blush crimson as I recall the taste of Baz's tongue.
Penny gives me a searching look. Then, she holds out the palm of her hand to reveal two white tablets. The paracetamol reminds me that the pain in my temple isn't just confusion over the fact the world has spun on its axis—I'm also tremendously hungover.
I groan in relief and hold out my hand, but she pulls her arm away. She's got a mischievous glint in her eyes. "First," she says, "explain how and why I found you cuddling with Baz Pitch."
"Penny," I whine. I lean forward, my torso hanging over the bed, straining to reach closer to her. She just takes a step back.
"Tell me everything—well, not everything, maybe leave out the more crass details—"
"Shhh! Keep your voice down," I hiss. I can hear the water running in the loo, so Baz must be already showering, but still. I'd be mortified if he heard us talking about him—about us—like this. I blurt out, "We only slept together."
Penny grins wolfishly, and I rush to correct her. "No, no, ugh. I just meant. We fell asleep together, that's it."
She raises her eyebrows. "That's it?" she asks skeptically.
"And, you know. We also kissed." A lot. And I want to do it again.
Fuck, I want to do it again.
"You know, Shep guessed this would happen last night. He said he always thought you guys had serious vibes ." She mimics his accent, which usually amuses me, but I'm sort of in the middle of an earth-shattering revelation here.
I think everything's changed.
Or... Has nothing changed?
I need to find out.
I get up out of bed, and Penny throws her hands over her eyes and curses "Jesus, Si!"—reminding me that I slept just in my pants. I ignore her, and just start throwing on trackies.
"Listen, Pen, can you come back later?" I ask, as I pull a jumper over my head. "We don't need to be moved out until three, and I'm nearly packed." Penny looks around my room meaningfully, clearly noting that literally nothing has been packed. "Just… Please?"
Penny sighs heavily, but she can't quite keep the amusement off her face. Then she hands over the paracetamol, and I grab it greedily, swallowing it down dry. "Be ready and dressed at two o'clock, and not a moment later," she says sternly.
I agree, and she gets up to leave—but not before fishing a condom out of her wallet and tossing it at me. "Be safe!" she advises me through her chuckling.
I feel the heat burning at my cheeks, but I shake off the embarrassment when I catch a glance at the clock. It's nearly ten.
I'm not sure if four hours is enough to convince Basilton Pitch to be my boyfriend, but I'm damn well going to try.
Steam clouds the air of our small ensuite. I turned the shower handle all the way to the left, so that the water was scalding hot. I stood under the shower head until my olive skin turned red, until the oppressive heat began to burn me, and still it couldn't wash away my anxiety over last night.
I kissed Simon Snow.
And I'm aching to do it again.
I twist shut the cap of my hair gel, packing it into the toiletry suitcase I kept by the sink. I've already brushed my teeth, flossed, washed my face, showered, shaved, dried and gelled my hair—I've gone through all the motions of my morning routine as languidly as possible, and now I have no choice but to leave this bathroom. Simon's already knocked three separate times; I'm just being rude now (not like that's new).
I forgot to grab clothing before I marched into the loo, determined to get away from Penelope Bunce and her gleeful smirking. So I'm going to have to go back into our bedroom in just a towel—something I've never done, not in all the months we've lived together. Just like he doesn't change in front of me, I don't undress in front of him.
This will be fine, I tell myself. He slept in just his pants last night. This is almost the same thing.
The thought doesn't calm me down; if anything, the memory of his bare skin on mine makes me more nervous. But I square my shoulders like I'm preparing for battle, and then I twist the door handle to the ensuite.
Simon jumps to his feet as soon as the door opens. He's dressed in his usual attire—worn grey trackies and an Imperial College London rugby jumper. The domestic image sends an unbidden rush of affection through me. His curls are sitting in a wild and unruly mop on his head; when he runs a nervous hand through his hair, I see just why.
Simon doesn't seem to know where to look. He's trying and failing to maintain eye contact, his eyes darting down my body repeatedly. I know I'm blushing wildly; he's seen me flush more times in the last twelve hours than in the year he's known me. I pretend shyness and vulnerability isn't making my hands shake as I march over to my dresser and grab trousers and a button up.
Without being told to, he turns around (though, I notice, a bit reluctantly). I'm grateful for the courtesy. I wasn't going to back down from the challenge; I would've changed in front of him. But I'm happy not to be forced to. (If Simon ever sees me naked, I'd want it to be under different circumstances.)
I clear my throat when I've finished doing up the buttons on my shirt, and Simon turns around to face me.
I planned out a whole speech in the shower—one full of meaningless phrases like we can pretend this never happened and I know you were just drunk and it was just a mistake. I was going to feign nonchalance, laugh it off, maybe make him feel stupid for thinking I would even care.
But I look into his deep blue eyes, and I forget all my words.
"Good morning," he says softly, with a sheepish smile that hints at secrets between us.
With all the self-discipline I possess, I force my facial expression to remain stoic. "Snow," I greet him coolly.
"I thought—uh—I was thinking maybe—" Snow starts, and then stops. "What are you doing?"
"Packing," I say, refusing to meet his gaze as I shove assorted knick knacks from my nightstand into a duffel bag. "What are you doing?"
"Uh, well, I was wondering— " I involuntarily turn my head towards him, just in time to see him swallow showily. My mind gets stuck on the movement, and I can't make myself look away from his throat. "Uh. Do you want to go to Nico's?"
That makes me drop the sunglasses I was packing onto the floor. "Nico's?"
"Ye-yeah! The place, 'round the corner? I really like the woman who owns it—Ebb—she's a saint, she actually named it after her brother—long story, that—but anyways, they've got—"
I interrupt him; I'm really not interested in getting the backstory on a café I've never been to. "You're asking me to get breakfast with you?"
"Uh—" He musses up his curls again. "Well, technically, by now, we'd have to call it brunch."
Simon Snow wants to get brunch with me.
I do not understand what's happening.
He blinks at me. "Aren't you hungry? They have great food—blueberry pancakes, and crepes with apples and brie, and these sour cherry scones that are to die for, and—"
I cut him off before he can continue rambling the menu off to me. Truthfully, I'm starving, and all of that sounds delicious, but that's not my point. "Why would you want to get breakfast with me?"
Now he's looking at me like he doesn't understand what's happening either.
I need to get this conversation back on track.
"We don't need to do the whole morning-after thing," I snap.
"I know we don't have to, I just thought—"
"Since when do you think?" I snap. It's a predictable insult—a cruel reflex—and I want to blanch when it makes Simon flinch.
He crosses his arms, ready to join the battle I've been waging alone. "Why are you being such an awful git? I thought—after last night—well. You'd wanna."
Flashes of last night come to me: the mole on Simon's hipbone, his lips around a Guinness bottle, the soft texture of his curls. The fondness flooding my chest feels shameful in the cold light of day—especially with Simon here, offering everything I want without realising it.
"I know last night didn't mean anything," I say, making a Herculean effort to keep my voice steady and detached. "You don't have to pretend."
His brows furrow. "How am I pretending?"
"You're just being polite!" I growl. "Offering breakfast because you're chivalrous and you think you have to because we snogged. Why else would you want to get brunch with me?"
Simon blinks at me. "Because I fancy you?" he says slowly.
My heart skips a beat before speeding up to double time. "Is that a question?"
"No." He huffs out a nervous laugh, musses up his hair again. "It's a statement."
"That's impossible." It can't be this simple. "You hate me."
"I don't usually snog people I hate." He cocks his head at me. "Do you?"
It's my instinct to snap and say ' yes, sometimes.' But there's something like hope in his voice, and it makes me want to be optimistic for once. It makes me want to say the right thing.
But I'm lousy at saying the right thing. So, instead, I push him up against his wardrobe and snog him hard.
He responds immediately, giving as good as he gets. His hips surge forward against me and his hands snake up around my neck. He tastes like mint chewing gum and destiny. In this moment, with his tongue in my mouth, we feel inevitable. Like fate itself intervened to get us here, to make sure we didn't leave this room without fixing this.
When we come up for air, the grin that splits his face is so wide it looks like it hurts. His happiness seems to be bursting out of him. The show of honest vulnerability prompts me to confess, "I didn't think you'd fancy me back."
"Yeah?" he asks, running his thumb over my cheekbone. (I have to suppress the urge to shiver with satisfaction.) "Well, I do."
"Not sure. I realised it when I kissed you." He grins. "How long have you fancied me?"
"A while," I admit.
"How long's a while?" He asks, self satisfied.
It feels melodramatic to say ' from the moment I laid eyes on you' —even if that is the truth.
"It won't be for much longer if you don't get me those pancakes I was promised," I retort with a raise of my eyebrow.
He smiles and reaches for my hand. I let him take it, delighting in the simple joy of lacing our fingertips together. "Alright," he says, before his face lights up in a sly smile. "But I'm requesting Ebb play Mr. Brightside."
I laugh at that, and he joins in like my joy is contagious.
I thought there was nothing in the world like watching Simon Snow dance. But this might rival it—making Simon Snow laugh.
"We'll play what are the odds for it," I say. "Let's go, I'm sure you're starving."
Simon tugs on my hand and leads me out the bedroom door so we can go on our breakfast date.
Fuck, I'm living a charmed life.