They played a lot of games with each other but this was perhaps her favourite even if it was one of the few they played that didn’t require thinly veiled sexual innuendo. It did however usually end up exactly the same way as it has this time - her on one end of the couch, him on the other, legs spread out towards one another, tangled and twisted together like a pair of headphones you’ve carried in your purse for too long.
There was only one rule to this game - you must commit to the entire afternoon, no exceptions. The rest was simple - he arrived with whatever book he was currently reading and she grabbed hers off the nightstand. They’d share a joint and then exchange said reading material. He’d read some of hers, she’d read some of his and the jousting would begin. The loser made dinner - which was, more often than not, her. She was smart - smarter than she normally got credit for - but he was usually smarter and could turn even the most benign of books into a sling that would make most people weep if it wasn’t done with such obvious affection. He never gloated though and he usually ended up in the kitchen lending a hand.
This lazy Sunday wasn’t an exception. He’d arrived, his thick brown hair disheveled and his t-shirt partially tucked into his loose-fitting jeans, as if he’d crawled out of bed and headed straight for her doorstep. They didn’t miss a beat and she immediately thanked him for dressing up for her benefit, pretending that it wasn’t like this that she found him particularly breathtaking. He, with his usual easy smile, asked how she managed to breath in those jeans, even though he allowed himself to enjoy the view as he followed behind her to the over-sized sofa in the warmly lit living room.
By dinner time, they’d each read a few chapters from the others book, and thrown together a lasagna that now baked in the oven, filling the entire level of the house with wafting scent of garlic and bubbling cheese and had returned to their usual positions on the sofa, snaking their legs through each others and losing themselves in the pages of the others world. Aside from the occasional interruption when one had a thought they couldn’t resist sharing, they were, for the most part silent even as they soundlessly fought over whether the shared blanket should remain covering them or be thrown over the back of the couch.
She finally gave in, hiding the smirk that danced over her lips with the book in her hands as she slipped her now freezing toes under the hem of his t-shirt and pressing them against the warm skin discovered underneath. Without lowering the paperback in her hands, she giggled when he yelped and squirmed momentarily, immediately reaching to his own rescue. Instead of shoving her foot away though, as she’d anticipated, his hand engulfed her toes, lightly caressing the top of her foot with the pad of his thumb. Lowering the book enough to peek just her eyes over top, she smiled lightly, reaching her free hand to give the knee he had tucked between her midsection and the back of the sofa a soft squeeze before returning to her pages and lazily letting her hand slide down his calf.
Unable to leave well enough alone though, she couldn’t resist letting her fingers slip underneath the bottom of his jeans, at first letting her fingers dance ever so softly over his skin, but even as she pretended to resume her reading, she gave a slight but firm tug on a pinch of leg hairs she managed to grasp blindly, bursting out a hearty laugh when he reflexively kicked out his foot in defiance, breaking the comfortable silence that had surrounded them for the past hour or so.
Before she could muster any sort of defense to the retaliation she knew would come though, he’d gripped her ankle firmly, letting her book fall from his hands to the hardwood floors as he reached with his other hand, lightly tickling at the soles of her feet, holding his grip firmly even when she squealed loudly and tried to squirm free of his hold.
The more she fought, the more he tickled, leaning his chin down to use the stubble over his cheek to intensify the sensation, eliciting an even louder call for mercy that was only partially drowned in a sea of giggles that erupted from both of them. “James, stop, please” she begged, twisting and turning, her voice cracking from laughing so hard.
Amber had a unique and envied sense of style and the way she seemed to float in a pair of four inch heels could fool you into thinking that she was grace embodied, but those who knew her best, like James, were far too aware that in actuality – she was an utter klutz and it didn’t take long before all that wriggling to break free tossed her off the sofa with a loud thud as her butt hit the floor, her head bouncing off the side of the coffee table like a tennis ball against a brick wall.
For the briefest of moments they both fell silent once again but before either could even take a breath, she’d burst into another fit of laughter. Accustomed to the bumps and bruises that went along with being her, she rubbed at the bump that was already forming on the side of her skull, simultaneously whimpering aloud, unaware of look of dread that was frozen onto his expression as he leapt from the couch and rushed to the kitchen.
When he returned a moment later with a cloth in one hand and handful of ice in the other, she was still on the floor but was attempting to pull herself to her feet amid the stars that clouded her visual field. “Stay still” he grumbled, her first clue of his level of concern, as he knelt down, hovering over her and gently brushing the cloth over the broken skin to wipe away the few small drops of blood that oozed from the wound.
Reflexively, she cringed a little at the touch, watching as his frown grew even deeper as he focused intently on cleaning her up. She couldn’t help but stare – his face was so close to hers that she could feel his breath against her cheek. She was a little more fond of the cookie-stealing grin he usually wore when they were together, but she couldn’t deny that genuine worry that clouded his usually laughing eyes ignited something different inside her. There was something soul-touching about the depth of his concern for her, even when it was something so trivial.
“Ambs, I’m so sorry” he muttered, looking down at his hands while he wrapped the slowly melting ice cubes in the cloth. The corners of her mouth twitched ever so slightly – it was silly, but she loved when he called her that. It was a simple nickname, nothing overly creative or meaningful. There was no funny story or inside secret hat accompanied. Hell, he wasn’t even the only one that called her that. He always called her that though and in some weird way, that seemed to make the nickname his and his alone.
“Hey,” she said softly, grasping his wrist when he reached up with the improvised ice pack, partially to slow his movement because the pounding pain was beginning to set in, but mostly to get his attention. “I’m ok” she assured him, her own hand reaching up to press its palm to his cheek “Really. Nothing I can’t handle” she added with a soft smile as he lightly laid the ice against the discolored bump, locking her eyes with his so he couldn’t miss her sincerity. “I know” he shrugged, forcing his own small smile “I just…”
He didn’t finish his sentence but rather just shook his head and let out the breath he seemingly had been holding since she’d tumbled to floor before leaning in, gently pressing his lips against the corner of her mouth in a soft, but quick kiss. The kiss itself didn’t surprise her, they’d always had an affectionate friendship and kisses on the cheek were certainly not unusual. What did take her aback a little was how much she’d wished those lips had landed an inch to the left.
When he pulled back and their eyes met again, she couldn’t help but wonder if he hoped of the same, especially when they both remained there, gazes locked and unflinching, as time seemed to screech to an abrupt halt and everything, including the throb in her head, melted from existence leaving the two of them completely and utterly alone with one and other. For a moment, when his eyes flickered lower just the tiniest bit, she thought this might be it. That this might finally be the moment he kisses her – that they could might, after long last, be able to shut Seth up and discover if the years of flirting was meant to amount to something more than this. She was so convinced in fact that she’d already started to let her eyelids flutter shut when the oven’s timer loudly, and obnoxiously, filled the room with it’s irritating buzz.
Certain he’d recognize the disappointment in her eyes, she pulled hers away, laying her hand over his to take responsibility for the ice pack. “I should get that” he mumbled, almost as a question, still holding his stare. “Yeah.” she nodded only slightly, not completely convinced he should, watching while he pushed himself up to his feet and waiting until his back was turned and he was halfway to the kitchen before letting out her own deep sigh.