by Lady H
“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 not the front of him anyway, but she does now, as she greets his parents, and takes a seat on a spare patch of floor in between Catherine's bean bag and Zoe's baby chair.
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 fourteen 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. Her mum squashes onto the two-seater sofa alongside James' parents.
“So do you like your surprise, Henrietta?” Her mum giggles, nudging James' mum. They grin at each other, then look at Henry expectantly. She feels dizzy from the amount of people squeezed into one room.
Her mum's words finally sink in. Henry stares at her mum. “You knew J...James was coming back?” She is dumbfounded. She stumbles over saying his name out loud, after all these years so used to referring to him as J instead.
“Of course darling! Sophie and I have been having whispered phone conversations for months. Isn't it wonderful?” Everyone is looking at her, waiting for an answer. 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 last summer. Henry, why don't you take James up to your room?” Henry starts to protest, but unfortunately Sophie starts at the same time 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, stepping over Catherine's legs and indicating for James to follow her up the steep stairs to her room. Their footsteps are followed by groans from the old wood and they ascend, leaving the safety of the living room behind. As the door swings shut behind James, Henry fumbles for the light switch so that they're not plunged into darkness.
“So...” James starts, his voice closer than she expected behind her. She reaches the small square of landing and pushes open the door to the right. The space is dominated by a double bed, the one piece of furniture Henry refused to give up when they downsized. The bed has a solid oak frame, with intricate carvings on the headboard which Henry likes to think of as scenes from a fairy woodland. James heads straight for the bed and drops onto it, resting back onto the headboard. His actions are smooth, like he's done this a thousand times. Henry is instantly annoyed at how comfortable and at home he looks in her bedroom. Her private space.
James watches as Henry climbs gingerly onto the bottom of the bed, settling cross legged as far from him as possible.
Henry folds her arms across her chest, her eyes glued to the swirling flowery duvet pattern. If he thinks she's 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 up, raising her eyebrows. He's looking at her intently. James laughs. “You're still the stubborn old Henrietta. You haven't changed a bit since in all these years.”
“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 still hasn't got over the shock that her mum had kept such and important thing from her, successfully, all this 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 fixedly, watching for his tells. He doesn't give anything away, suggesting he's not lying. “So what's new with you then?” James carries on before she can interrogate further, changing conversation direction.
“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, no matter how much she wishes it wasn't. “I went to Scotland this summer. That dress is new.” She points at the short red dress hanging on the front of the wardrobe 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, understanding her meaning and nodding, unsure for a moment where to go next. “Nice dress.” He grins wolfishly. “I'd like to see you in it sometime.”
“And you say I haven't changed! You're still a pig!” She declares, disgusted. If they were still best friends, or even together like the summer before last, she probably would have punched him for his trouble, or at least thrown a cushion at his head. But they aren't, she has 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. You might not have met her yet, but she's pretty much in charge of our year - straight dark hair, hazel eyes?”
“Yeah, I know her.” He gulps.
“What?” Henry frowns at James weird reaction.
“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 about a month ago.” Henry can't believe it. "We're dating.”
Henry stares. Of course that made sense. Normally she was so on the ball, she should have seen this coming. Darcy tells her about a new guy moving to the village, a new guy starts school, Darcy goes missing all day... But James? And Darcy? He ex boyfriend and her best friend? She feels sick. What is she supposed to tell Darcy?
“What are you sorry for?” She looks at him, puzzled.
“I just didn't know you were here, and Darcy was so nice when I first moved. But we're still a mess, we need to sort us out.” He looks conflicted.
“There is no 'we' or 'us' anymore James. That was over a year ago. 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?
“Hennie...” He leans forward and reaches for her hand.
“Don't ‘Hennie’ me!" She knocks his hand away "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." James leans back again decisively. "Anyway, I've already moved on. I'm always moving on. Darcy's amazing. I'm so glad I moved in opposite her.”
Henry knows it is none of her business, but it's playing on her mind. “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, wiggling his fingers in the air like a magician, 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.
“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's shocked at the amount of false statements in 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's raising her voice. The walls of the house are thin and she does not need their parents hearing this argument.
“What the hell, Hennie. You know you still want me.” He's angry, cocky again now. He's changing moods so fast she can't keep up.
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, agitated, towering over him.
James scoffs. “So, you’re saying that you don't find me attractive?” He drawls, scotching off of the bed so that he's standing now too.
Henry loses height advantage, having to tilt her head up to look at him. “No, I don't,” she lies.
“You're so stubborn!” James shakes his head, repeating himself. “Of course you still like me.”
“I don't!” She exclaims, eyes wide.
“Right,” James replies, not taking his eyes off of hers.
“Why do you even care?”
“I don't.” He shrugs. Something inside Henry breaks. “I just know you do.”
“You are such an arrogant prick!” She growls, unable to contain her exasperation.
“And you're stubborn.” He pronounces each word deliberately, slowly, tempting her to take the bait.
“You already said that. Twice.” She folders her arms.
“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 and can go back to our old ways. 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.”
“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 still likes him. Very much. They both know.
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. 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, flopping onto her bed. He sits down opposite her, unable to break eye contact while they catch their breath.
“What” Henry hisses, conscious of the parents downstairs, “On earth was that?!” Now she's even more confused. And James has cheated on her best friend. And she's kissed her best friend's boyfriend. What was she going to do? Henry starts to panic.
“I had to know.” He looks at her hopelessly.
“Know what?” She’s outraged. How can he waltz in here and disrupt her life so entirely within a day of being back? These next few months at school were so important; the choices she makes now will define her life forever.
“If there was still a spark.” Henry inhales sharply.
“Was there?” She asks after a pause.
“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, 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, made a conscious effort not to lead every class, 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 was to get over James Stevens. She didn't want to feel the connection anymore, there was too much damage and too much history. Things would never be the same, and she accepted that she needed to move on. For everyone's sake. It was just working out how to do that was going to be a problem. A very big problem indeed.