by Lady Holly
“Nice dress.” He grins wolfishly. “I'd like to see you in it sometime."
His Kiss - Part Five
When Henry gets home that afternoon and sees the unfamiliar car parked right outside her house among the first of the crispy fallen leaves, a knot full of dread begins to pool in her stomach. It had to be James. She contemplates walking to the park and returning after the Stevens' have left, telling her mum she'd been held up at school. She really really wants too. But she just can't.
Taking a deep breath, she tries to walk as normally up the garden path as possible. Letting herself in with her own key and dumping her school bag on the stairs, she pauses, hearing laughter from their tiny living room. She still has time to back away, and Henry has just made up her mind to, when her mum crashes through the living room door with three empty mugs, heading for the kitchen where Henry can hear the kettle already boiling.
“Henrietta!” She cries, eyes lighting up. “You'll never guess who's in the living room!” Her mum glides past her into the kitchen, leaving Henry to enter the room alone.
“Oh, I bet I can.” She mutters under her breath.
Even though she knew it was James and his family, she still isn't prepared for the sight of James, stretched out so casually in her favourite chair. She hadn't had time to really look at him earlier, at least the front of him anyway, but she does now, as she greets his parents, and takes a seat on the floor next to Catherine's bean bag.
In a year, he'd grown another few inches, and he must have been abroad recently because his face is more tanned, framed by his dark hair. It’s amazing how in just twelve months he looks a whole lot more grown up, now more of a young man. His chin is covered in a smattering of stubbly hair, although it may have looked more advanced than that of other boys in her year because of the sheer darkness of it; blond hair was never as noticeable as dark brown. But it is more than just his looks that have changed over the year; it is the air about him. He holds himself more carefully, back straighter and facial expression less child-like and more business-like. It is disconcerting. His piercing green eyes are as bright as ever, and he’s changed his clothes since school. He is now dressed casually in blue jeans and a green t-shirt, the exact same shade as his eyes. She hates how she knows that.
“Hi, Hennie. I didn't have a chance to talk to you today.” His voice sends shivers down her spine. She hates how he can still, after all these years, affect her so much.
“Hey, James.” She can't stop looking at him, and she fears she'll always feel this way. She doesn't know what to say to him. Luckily, her mum re-enters to room and distributes the drinks she's prepared, saving Henry from having to take the lead in the conversation.
“So do you like your surprise, Henrietta?” Her mum giggles, nudging James' mum. They grin at each other, then look at Henry expectantly.
Henry stares at her mum. “You knew James was coming back?” She is dumbfounded. She also has to physically stop herself from calling him J.
“Of course darling! Me and Sophie have been having whispered phone conversations for months. Isn't it wonderful?” Her mum leaves her no escape.
“Yes.” She fakes a smile, hoping it looks realistic. There is an awkward pause.
“Well,” Henry's mum claps her hands, taking charge. “I'm sure you two have a lot of catching up to do since summer. Henry, why don't you take James up to your room?” Henry starts to protest, but unfortunately Sophie starts at the same time as her and her sentence peters out.
“Oh what a wonderful idea Sarah, then we can catch up properly as well,” Sophie exclaims. As if they haven't done enough catching up already, all these so-called whispers on the phone.
Reluctantly, Henry stands up, indicating for James to follow her up the stairs to her room. She is suddenly thankful of the old, tiny sofa she'd crammed into her room; that way James wouldn't have to sit on her bed.
“So...” James starts, taking a seat on the red sofa and watching her as she settles cross legged onto her bed. If he thinks Henry is going to start the conversation, he'll have to rethink. She hears James sigh. “Oh Hennie, please, I've already said sorry for what happened the other summer.”
“I know.” She replies, keeping her voice even.
“Then why won't you look at me?” Henry looks at him, raising her eyebrows. He is looking at her intently. James laughs. “You're still the stubborn old Henrietta. You haven't changed a bit since I met you.”
“That's unfair.” Henry glares. She thought she'd changed quite a bit.
“But it's true.” He says smartly. She just shakes her head. “So what do you really think of the surprise then?” He asks.
“Did you know about this?!” Her tone is accusatory. She can’t believe her mum kept this from her this whole time.
“No, actually I didn’t. I was just as shocked when I saw you this morning as you were to see me.” She studies him intently, trying to work out if he’s lying.
“So what's new with you then?” James asks, butting in before she can question him further and changing the conversation.
“What do you mean?” Henry asks, deliberately being awkward.
“Do you have a boyfriend? Have you bought any new clothes? Been on holiday? I'm just asking what's different in your life. Play nice, Hennie.”
Henry lets out another sigh. Just sitting in a room with him is painful. And she wishes so much that it wasn't. “I went to Scotland this summer. That dress is new.” She points at the short red dress hanging on the door behind her. “And I haven't had a boyfriend since...” She looks down, playing with the friendship bracelet Darcy brought her back last year from America.
“Right,” James says, nodding. “Nice dress.” He grins wolfishly. “I'd like to see you in it sometime.”
“You're a typical male!” She says, disgusted. If they'd been at primary school and still close, she probably would have punched him for his trouble. But they weren't, she had to remind herself. So she settled for another death glare. “Darcy forced me to buy it last time we went shopping.” She says, referring to the revealing red dress.
James pales. “Darcy?”
“Yeah, Darcy Moore. She would have been in your Geography class this afternoon – straight blonde hair, hazel eyes?”
“Yeah, I know her.” He gulps.
“What's wrong?” Henry frowns. James was suddenly acting weird.
“Umm..” He looks like he is trying to find the right words. Henry watches him suspiciously. “I knew Darcy before I started school.” Oh no... “I moved into the house opposite her.” Henry can't believe it. “She's actually my girlfriend.”
Henry just looks at him, thinking it all though in her head. After a moment she nods. Why hadn't she seen this coming? “Yes, I should have expected that.”
“What are you sorry for?” She looks at him puzzled.
“Well, we're still a mess.”
“There is no 'we' James. You can go out with who you like, it's nothing to do with me.” She doesn't say it bitterly, she knows it really isn't anything to do with her. Well, it shouldn't be. So why does it still hurt so much?
“Don't ‘Hennie’ me! It's true. 'We' is now in the past. It's time for us both to move on. Besides, we’ve changed.” She tries to sound forceful. Inside, she is trying to convince herself as much as she is trying to convince James.
“Yeah, you're right. Anyway, I've already moved on. I'm always moving on. Darcy's amazing. I'm so glad we moved in opposite her.”
Henry knows it is none of her business, but she just has to know. “Who was your bad relationship?”
“What?” James asks, confused.
“Darcy told me you said you wanted to go slow with her because your last relationship didn't work out very well.”
“Wow. I can't believe she told you that!” James shakes his head.
“She's my best friend James! We tell each other everything.”
“She clearly didn't tell you my name.” James smirks.
“Well, she obviously didn't think it was important,” defends Henry.
“Maybe she knew it was me, the James from your past.” He says mysteriously, waving his hands about, still smirking.
“That's impossible.” Henry scoffs. He'd always looked like an idiot when he did that whole 'mystery' thing.
“Why?” He frowns, dropping his arms to his sides.
“I never told her about you.”
“What, never? Nothing at all?” James takes on a hurt expression. Henry can't tell if it is authentic.
“Nothing. I didn't think she needed to know.” Henry chooses her words carefully.
“She didn't need to know about the boy you've been in love with for seventeen years?”
Henry is shocked; there is so much wrong with that sentence. “Okay, firstly, when I was two I wasn't in love with you, you idiot. And I wasn’t really in love with you in Primary school, either. Secondly, that's 'loved' past tense, not 'love' present tense – if I ever did love you last summer at all, and thirdly, no, she didn't need to know.” Henry is aware she is now raising her voice.
“What the hell, Hennie. You know you still want me.”
God, the boy has some nerve. He is so full of himself! “My name is not Hennie anymore! Stop calling me that stupid pet name. I go by Henry now.”
“Don’t change the subject, Henry, I know you still want me.” He’s grinning at her, so sure of himself.
“Okay, you clearly don't understand that there's some women in this world that actually don't find you attractive, James.” She jumps off the bed, towering over him.
James scoffs. “So, you’re saying that you don't find me attractive?” He asks lazily, also standing up.
Henry loses height advantage, having to tilt her head up to look at him. “No, I don't,” she replies stubbornly. Of course she is lying.
“You're so stubborn!” James shakes his head, repeating what he'd said earlier. “Of course you do.”
“I don't!” She cries, eyes wide.
“Right,” James replies, not taking his eyes off of her.
“Why do you even care?”
Something inside Henry breaks.
“I just know you do.”
“You are such an arrogant prick!” She cries.
“And you're stubborn.”
“You already said that. Twice.”
“You're not denying it though, are you?”
“Look James. You can't just come strolling in here, acting like we're still as close as we were seven years ago. I've changed. I’ve grown up. I've moved on. We've both moved on, and I just don't feel the same about you now as I did last year. If it didn’t work then it’s not going to work now. You’ll be happy with Darcy.”
“Don't lie, Hennie. It's not a nice trait.” And all at once he tips his head down and captures Henry's lips with his. They are just as soft as he remembers them. He pulls her towards him, wrapping his arms around her waist. She tastes delicious.
Before she knows what she is doing, Henry is kissing him back urgently. Who is she kidding, she is still attracted to him. Very much.
James pulls her closer, deepening the kiss. He doesn't think he'll ever tire of kissing her. Something about her just constantly pulls on his heart. Of course, he doesn't ever want her to know that.
She is floating. Henry is literally in heaven. Being held by James is like coming home after months away. But somewhere along the line, she vaguely remembers that James is currently dating Darcy. Her best friend. She quickly drops back down to earth and pushes James away, falling back onto her bed. They sit opposite each other, unable to break eye contact, trying to catch their breath.
“What” Henry cries, “On earth was that?!”
“I had to know.”
“Know what?” She’s outraged. She tries to push to the back of her mind that she'd kissed him back.
“If there was still a spark.” This stopped Henry in her tracks for a moment; she was not expecting him to say that.
“Was there?” She asks after a few seconds.
“Of course.” He looks at her as if she is mad.
Henry lays back onto her bed, dumbfounded. What is she supposed to do now?
She misses him. After all these years of hurt; the talking about her behind her back, the cheating on her with that girl from summer… she still wants him, and misses him whenever he isn't with her. She knows him better than anyone else in the world. Of course there is still a spark.
But she's grown up. The geeky, glasses-wearing, know-it-all little girl from primary school has gone. The girl that James had been best friends with has been forced to change to survive secondary school. She’d dropped the attitude, swapped glasses for contacts, and started paying a little more attention to her appearance. She was still a geek – somethings would never change, and she didn’t want them to – but she’d toned down the geeky-ness in class, at least. And the last thing she needed to do to complete the ritual shedding of skin, was to get over James Stevens. She didn't want to feel the connection anymore, there was too much damage and history hanging about. She really did need to move on. It wasn’t fair that he’d come tumbling back into her life, rocking everything about just when she should be concentrating on her university application. Still. She was Henrietta Morgan. And she needed to move on from bloody James Stevens once and for all. It was just working out how to do so that was proving to be a problem. A very big problem indeed.