|The shock of Christian’s words, along with the darkness surrounding me, prompts my foot to miss the curb of the sidewalk. I stumble backwards, expecting to fall on my butt. Thankfully my lower body is quickly corralled by Christian as he stabilizes my balance with his solid, muscular arms.
“You and sidewalks don’t seem to mix.” He teases.
There is honest-to-goodness truth to his statement. When I first started driving, curbs were my nemesis. They seemed to find my tires as much as a kid finds a new toy to covet. Every once in awhile, they still find me—Christian can attest to that—and apparently, they’ve decided to find me as I walk tonight.
“You OK?” He asks, noticing my unusual silence.
“No. Yes. I don’t know,” I answer, indecisive.
His arched brow is illuminated by the flickering street light. “Can you maybe narrow that answer a little for me?” He asks, a hint of concern in his voice.
“I’m upset that Ryan called you yesterday,” I admit, flatly.
“Why?” He questions, bordering a defensive tone. “You know we’re friends. Does that suddenly bother you?”
My voice is desperate and regretful. “No, not at all. It’s just...I haven’t talked to him in two days.”
“What do you mean?” He says in disbelief.
“Sunday night is the last time we spoke. I called him last night and Nate said he fell asleep. Today I sent him a text, but I never got a response. It’s like he’s ignoring me.”
“Wow,” is all he says at first, peering to the ground, flabbergasted. After taking a moment to reflect on my statement, his brown eyes meet my somber gaze. “I’m sorry...That doesn’t make any sense.”
I heave a heavy sigh. “I know. I don’t understand why he’s not responding.”
Shaking his head, he takes a seat on the sidewalk and pulls out his phone from his pocket. It turns on as he hunches over, cradling it between his knees.
“What are you doing?” I ask, lunging next to him.
“I’m calling Ryan,” he explains, his voice hard and determined.
“No, please don’t,” I protest.
His eyes quickly narrow. “Why not?”
“Because I need him to make the effort out of his own desire. Not because he feels forced or obligated. Otherwise what’s the point.”
He nods. “I can understand that. But I’m not OK with him treating you this way. He and I are gonna have a serious talk at some point.”
“Maybe there’s a good reason for his silence,” I offer. “What did he say yesterday?”
“He just had a quick legal question for me. I was able to answer it and that was pretty much the extent of our conversation, besides the usual pleasantries.”
“Oh,” I whisper, disappointed.
I glance down at my weathered sneakers, legs stretched out in front of me. Sadness starts to creep in. Everything inside me feels heavy and empty at the same time.
“Lets go.” Christian says, standing. He reaches out his hands for me to grab, wiggling his fingers to make sure I see them. I reach up and he pulls me to my feet.
He starts to walk and I join him, quietly, self-pity drowning my thoughts. He’s quiet too, gazing in front of him, his hands keeping warm in his pockets. I think he’s just as shocked as I am at Ryan’s behavior.
The neighborhood is calm, barely any commotion. But the crickets are in full force, chirping like their performing at a concert. When we make it to the widest street, near Sam’s house, a burst of wind blows a trail of leaves into a dance. It shocks my core with a harsh chill. I gaze up at the half moon for a moment, wishing it were the sun.
“Let’s run the rest of the way home,” I suggest, shivering.
“Alright, but let’s stick to the grass.”
“Yeah, that’s probably a good idea.”
I smile mischievously before taking off in a mad sprint. Christian doesn’t know it yet, but I’m racing him to my house. I run faster than before, the cool air whipping my face. Knowing someone is behind me is enabling a faster pace; I have adrenaline to thank for that. Sadly, he catches up to me within seconds, warning me to slow down. I don’t care that it’s dark. I’m getting a much needed endorphin rush. Besides—I skim the area in front of me with the crossing of each new yard. There’s nothing but the smell of fresh cut grass—.
“Aaahh!” I cry out, dropping to the ground, unsure of how I even got there. When I sit up, Christian is crouched next to me, patting the grass and shaking his head.
“Pot hole,” he explains.
“In grass?” I reply, unamused.
“It happens...Are you hurt?”
“I rolled my ankle, but I think I can walk on it.”
“We’ll see about that,” he says helping me stand.
Once I gain my balance, I’m able to put pressure on my foot. But it’s hard to hide the pain—I wince with each step I take.
“OK, stop,” he insists, tugging my hand. “Hop on my back. I can carry you home.”
“No, it’s not that bad. I can walk.”
“You’re not walking,” he argues.
“Christian it’s not serious. It’s not even a sprain.”
His harsh tone surprises me. “If you don’t let me help, I’m going to throw you over my shoulder and carry you home...It’s up to you.”
I rest a hand on my hip and stare defiantly, unconvinced by his bold suggestion. However, my are-you-being-serious look doesn’t last long—Christian lunges my way, ready and willing to lift me with his ripped biceps and sturdy forearms.
“Alright, Alright. I believe you,” I say, lifting my hands.
“I wasn’t joking.” He admits, with a faint smile.
“Obviously... Bend down so I can jump you.”
Christian gives me a funny glance before executing my request. I giggle as I wrap my arms around his neck. Then I carefully jump on his back. He stands as I rest my long legs around his waist.
The heat of his body is already warming me up.
Slowly, he walks towards my house, letting a few grunts and moans escape him.
“You’re lucky I don’t live far,” I point out.
“Wouldn’t matter,” he explains, adjusting his grip under my thighs. “Your light. I could do this all day.”
“You’re so full of it...And for the record, you are way more stubborn than I realized.”
He laughs and then takes off in a jog, determined to prove how strong and fit he really is.
Giggles spurt out of me with the bumpy ride of his stride. I can only imagine how awkward we must look. Or maybe it’s not awkward at all. Maybe it’s the most adorable thing ever...
When we reach my house, Christian puts an end to his impressive jog and lets me hobble off his back. I’m able to walk a couple steps to the front door without faltering, using one of the white pillars to help me balance.
“Do you wanna come inside?” I ask, stretching my hands deep inside my jacket pockets.
“I’ll come in for a minute,” he says, sending me an amused smile.
The heat rushing to my cheeks escorts me inside, along with Christian’s steady arm.
Once we’re in the kitchen, I grab my phone from the counter and check for a missed text or call.
Zero. Zilch. Nada.
At this point, I’m not surprised. I’m getting used to disappointment. Or maybe it just helps to have someone aware of what’s going on. Someone on my side.
When I peer up, Christian is staring with an unimpressed glance. It startles me.
“What?” I ask, glaring back.
“You went running at night alone, with no phone,” He points out, a bit irritated.
“Yeah, like I said. I wasn’t thinking about my safety.” I shrug.
“Well, it sounds like we need to binge watch some episodes of Criminal Minds to get you thinking about it then.”
“Are you being serious?” I ask, softly.
“Yes...If it means you’ll take your well-being serious.”
My eyes light up at the thought of spending the evening with him. But my insecurities prevent me from asking. Instead, I meander around the kitchen island, noticing how quiet the house is.
One of the Disney magnets falls of the refrigerator as I open to grab two water bottles. I leave Eeyore on the ground, worried I might twist my foot while retrieving him. Then I toss Christian a water.
“We could watch it now,” I say spontaneously.
He laughs and twists of his lid. “Sure. Why not.”
“Great. I’ll make us some popcorn.”
“I have a better idea. You sit and I’ll make it,” he says, heading my way.
“My ankle feels fine,” I ensure him, applying gentle pressure to my foot as a demonstration.
“Let me see.”
Suddenly I’m collected at the waist and set on top of the counter. “What are you doing?” I giggle, surprised by his personal attention.
“It’s a little swollen,” he explains, examining my foot. “Definitely need to ice and elevate.”
“What—are you a doctor now too?” I tease.
“Only on Tuesday’s,” he jokes, grabbing me an ice pack from the freezer.
After he secures the pack around my ankle with a towel, I grab his taut forearm and gaze up at him. “You know how awesome you are, right?”
“It’s just a wrap. Anyone could do it.”
I cock my head and scowl, but I can’t hide my smirk. “That’s not what I meant and you know it.”
His sheepish grin illustrates exactly what I want—him to acknowledge my compliment.
The smell of kernels popping in the microwave wafts in the air. A few obnoxious beeps later and it’s done. As he pours the fresh bag of buttery popcorn into the red bowl, I catch a glimpse of a piece of paper flying off the counter top. Christian see’s it too and bends over to pick it up.
He hands me the note, and I read Kelly’s nice penmanship aloud:
Last minute date night. Call if you need us.
“Good for them,” Christian says.
“Yeah, I can’t remember the last time just the two of them went out.
I remove my jacket with confidence, exposing my tight black tank top, and allowing my arms to breathe in the warm family room.
“Maybe I should run home and take a shower first,” Christian suggests, removing his jacket as well.
“No, it’s fine,” I reply, swiftly. “We’re both hot and sweaty. Don’t worry about it.”
“You’re wearing the necklace I gave you,” he says, reaching to my neck, adjusting the silver cross.
“Oh, yeah.” I smile, unexpected. “I wore it to work today.”
Admiration fills his eyes. “It looks good on you.”
“Thanks.” I blush.
It doesn’t take long for us to relax against the couch, my legs curled to the side, and his elongated on the coffee table. My bad foot is propped up on a pillow, already feeling much better. The distance between us is one popcorn bowl, but more importantly—two people trying to be respectful of each other and their committed relationships to other people.
Twenty minutes into the first episode and I’m already turning my head into the sofa, disturbed by the tortured girl in the cage getting her nails clipped off. Christian laughs at my repulsion. I slug him softly in the chest—I’m not injuring my hand—and call out his insensitive behavior.
“What’s wrong with you?” I scold. “This is not a laughing matter.”
“I promise I’m not poking fun on purpose,” he says with a laugh. “I can’t help it if I find your sheltered mind amusing.”
I roll my eyes. “So my suffering is funny to you?”
“Come here.” He smirks, leaning over. “I’ll show you suffering.” His fingers dive into my ribs, while his face wears a smile that demands laughter. I squeal and squirm, completely helpless in my giggling fit. My flailing extremities knock over the popcorn bowl, but it doesn’t even faze him. I push him away in desperation, breathless from his intended torture. Battling his strength is a pointless endeavor. I can’t deter him no matter how hard I try.
“This is so unfair!” I cry out.
His hands finally pull away and I’m able to catch my breath.
“That was fun,” he says, leaning back, lifting his hands behind is head.
“Speak for yourself,” I snarl, slugging him in the stomach.
I shake my head. “You’re lucky I like you.”
His quick laugh leads him to reach forward, After grabbing the remote, he carefully browses the episodes, reading each caption before making a decision. I shoot him a look when I read the description of his choice: The team investigates the kidnapping of a young girl in a seemingly safe neighborhood.
There’s less suspense and intrigue in this episode, and the slower pace allows my mind to wander. I glance over at Christian a few times, relishing in our comfortable evening. He seems so relaxed; his slouched posture and playful antics reflect that. And there’s an appeal to his composure—one that’s bringing a satisfied feeling to my aching heart.
Half way through the episode, Christian notices my lack of interest and pauses the show, bringing me out of my trance.
“I’m sorry. My mind is having a hard time focusing,” I say, reaching for my water.
“It’s fine.” He shrugs. “This episode is a little boring.”
“It’s really warm in here. Are you hot?” I ask, taking a small sip of my water.
“Yeah, it’s a little warm.”
I don’t know what sparks my sudden prankish mood—maybe revenge—but after weighing my options, I decide to run with it.
I sit up casually to my knees and start pouring my water bottle all over Christian’s chest, slowly and dramatically. “Here. Let me cool you off a bit,” I say.
“What the—“ I watch him squirm on the sofa, unsure how to react to his soaked clothing. “Why did you just do that?” He asks, with a mixture of confusion and amusement in his voice.
I say nothing, but my quiet snorts are immediately interrupted by Christian’s playful reaction. His splendid physique tackles me in seconds as he makes sure to rub his cold wet T-shirt to my face and chest, gently but thoroughly. I laugh and squirm until he stops.
“I can’t believe you just did that,” he says, shaking his head.
“That’s what you get for tickling me to death,” I admit, enjoying his incredibly fit overlay.
“I could easily start again,” he warns, peering down on top of me.
“But you won’t.” I glower, raising a finger to his nose and lips. “Not unless you want to start a war.”
“Having fun?” Kelly asks, unexpectedly from behind the sofa.
“Loads,” Christian responds, sitting up slowly.
I flinch hard when Jason comes into my view, appearing uncertain more than anything else. His eyes are close together, but his mouth has a faint smirk.
“Hi Christian,” Kelly says, sweetly. “How are you?”
“I’m great. How are you both?”
“Pretty good,” Kelly answers.
“Stuffed,” Jason says, patting his stomach.
Looking down at my disheveled self, I straighten my top and fix my hair, embarrassed by the scene Kelly and my brother just walked in on. “We ran into each other at the park,” I explain, filling the awkward silence. “And now we’re watching a crime show because Christian thinks I’m careless with my safety.”
All eyes shift to Christian. “She’s not wrong,” he adds, lifting a hand.
I listen to the three of them play catch up, sharing their every day struggles and ups and downs of their jobs. It’s a conversation I can finally join—now that I’m working—but I don’t. I’m too distracted by Christian’s calmness. I knit my brow in confusion—Why am I a jumbled up puzzle, while he’s sitting comfortable and unfazed by my family’s untimely presence?
Kelly smiles and takes Jason’s hand. “We’re going to continue our night upstairs,” she says, squeezing my shoulder.
A tightness forms in my chest. I’m not sure if her touch is meant to be a sign of approval or a gentle warning. Either way, it’s powerful.
“Wait,” I say, urgently. “Have you talked to Ryan at all?”
“Yes, but only for a few minutes...He’s a busy guy these days.”
Sick to my stomach with her news, I turn around and hide my distraught face. That’s two people Ryan’s managed to call. I don’t even want to know if that list is longer, because no matter what, I’m not on it.
“Good night,” Kelly says.
I let Christian answer for the both of us. “Night.”
Once there upstairs, he probes me with a question and a nudge to my elbow. “You alright?”
“Yeah, but that was really awkward,” I admit, releasing a sigh.
Christian shrugs. “It was innocent fun. I think they know that.”
“Still, I could tell they were surprised to see you.”
“You know, I almost didn’t catch that.” He teases, thick with sarcasm.
I shove him with my good foot.
“Relax,” He begins, resting an arm on top of the sofa. “You’re an adult now. You get to make your own decisions about who you spend your time with. And I promise—“ His hand moves to his chest. “I’m not a convicted criminal.”
My giggle brings a curious grin. “Why are you so calm, cool and collected. I can’t figure it out.”
“Because after many conversations with your brother and Kelly, I know where they stand. And they know I would never intentionally hurt you.”
“I didn’t realize our relationship was such a hot topic.”
“I made it a point to share my intentions with them. I wanted to assure them that my age and general life experience wouldn’t be an issue.”
“I had no idea you invested that much effort into us...I don’t know what to say.”
It hurts my heart to hear him basically say he was all-in. Why couldn’t I be all-in with him? Why did I let Ryan dominate my thoughts and have a significant influence over my actions?
“You don’t have to say anything.” His warm eyes confirm. “We don’t need to rehash the past.”
I’m ready to object, but a loud ring interrupts me. I jump at the vibrating thud of my phone scooting across the coffee table. My first instinct is to grab it and answer, but I delay.
Christian leans over in urgent curiosity. “It’s Ryan,” he says, handing it to me in haste.
I take it and immediately press the button on the side multiple times, annoyed with the volume. Then I stare pensively, watching Ryan’s name light up like it’s a dream.
“Are you gonna answer it?” Christian asks, rushing his words.
“I don’t know.” I shrug, peering at the pressing look on his face.
“I know you’re upset, but you need to. Talk to him. Figure out what’s going on.”
He’s right, but I’m still struggling. I don’t want to be mad at Ryan. I don’t even want to argue. And I definitely don’t want to feel bad about myself or our relationship. All of those things feel inevitable if I answer his call.
My knee is met with Christians hand. “If you want, I can stay for a bit.
“Yes,” I reply quickly. “Please stay. I want you to stay.”
“OK.” He smiles, patting my leg. “I’ll stay.”
I take a deep, shaky breath and then answer my phone.
“Hey,” I say softly. “I was starting to think you forgot about me.”
”Sweetie, I’m sorry,” he says, frantic. “I wanted to call you earlier but time got away from me.”
I clear my throat. “Nate said you fell asleep from exhaustion.”
“Yes, and I meant to call you first thing this morning but my phone would not stop ringing. It’s been a crazy couple of days. I promise it won’t be like this forever.”
I can hear the desperation in his voice. But it doesn’t make me feel any better. It makes me feel worse.
“I don’t understand why you couldn’t send me a text,” I point out. I see Christian’s head nod in the corner of my eye.
I’m surprised when Ryan quickly contests my statement, giving me skeptical details about his immediate response to my text.
I shake my head. “Yeah, I never got that...I honestly thought you were ignoring me.”
“No. Never,” he objects. “But I’m sorry you thought that. You’re the most important person in my life. I would never ignore you.”
My voice is thick, as if I’m about to start crying. “But that’s exactly how I felt the last two days. I know you’re incredibly busy, but we need better communication. If we don’t talk every day I can live with that, but it needs to be agreed upon. I can’t go the whole day wondering if you’re OK.”
“I understand. We can come up with a plan. But like I said, it won’t be this busy forever. I’m still adjusting.”
Unsatisfied with Ryan’s answers, I start to make my way around the coffee table. Christian reaches for my waist and leads me carefully to a sitting position on the couch. When I frown at him, he points to my foot, and I quickly retract my scowl.
“Why did Kelly get a call and not me?” I ask sharply. “You couldn’t call me for even a second?”
His momentary silence worries me.
Christian leans forward and tries to listen in. When I tap his foot, his lips twitch up in a smile. I return a small, fading one.
“I didn’t want our conversation to be rushed,” Ryan finally explains. “I wanted to give you more than a second of my time...And Kelly wouldn’t stop calling. I thought it was urgent. I thought something happened to you.”
“And what if something does happen?” My voice raises. “And you don’t answer my call?”
His sigh is low and dejected. “That’s not going to happen.”
“Which part?” I say, frustrated. I stand again and aim my movements around the couch.
“All of it,” he says, breathing heavier into the phone. “Sweetie, I’m sorry I made you worry. I feel awful about it. Let’s switch to a video call. I want to see your face.”
“No, trust me, you don’t,” I argue. “My face is not happy right now.” I can feel the anger growing inside of me. The more I think about how easy this all could’ve been avoided the more it bothers me. “I think you would have found time to call me if you really wanted to. But more importantly, you should have made time. You even called Christian—but not me!”
“That was a very short conversation,” he explains, an edge to his usual even voice. “I had a question that needed an immediate answer. How did you even know about that?”
“It doesn’t matter,” I mumble.
“It matters to me. Tell me.”
“I ran into him at the park and we talked,” I explain, purposely being vague.
Christian’s eyes perk up, knowing he’s now the topic of discussion.
“Is he with you now?” Ryan asks, almost like he already knows the answer.
I hesitate. “Actually. Yes.”
There’s a long pause and guilt begins to poke around my gut.
“Can I talk to him for a second?”
“Are you serious?” I say, flustered, plopping back down on the sofa. “I finally get you on the phone and you wanna talk to him?”
“Just for a second, Ally. Calm down.”
“Don’t tell me to calm down,” I demand.
Christian reaches for the phone, his face serious and intense. “I’ll talk to him,” he says.
Apart of me wants to give Christian the phone, certain he would berate the crap out of my boyfriend. The other part doesn’t want to involve him. He shouldn’t be in the middle of this. It’s not right.
“I’m not giving him the phone,” I say, turning away from Christian’s eager hand. “You can call him later if you want.”
“Alright fine,” he concedes. “I hope he’s being respectful.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” I fire back.
“Never mind. Forget it.”
“No. Explain yourself. Why wouldn’t he be respectful? Where is that even coming from? He cares about both of us and you know it.”
At this point, Christian is very anxious to grab the phone from me, ready to defend himself. I have to quickly whisper, “stop,” and push his hand away.
“What’s going on?” Ryan asks, slightly irritated.
“Put it on speaker,” Christian requests, softly. I comply with his request—mostly to quiet him—and hold the phone flat in my hand.
“I’d really like to have a conversation without him sitting next to you,” Ryan says, lowering his voice.
I glance to Christian and he shrugs, leaving the decision up to me. “He’s not leaving,” I boldly say.
“I know I asked him to look out for you,” Ryan begins, his voice heated. “But I wasn’t expecting him to be in your presence constantly. I’ve only been gone a few days and you both seem to always be together. First at the gallery, then the coffee shop and now at the house.”
“We didn’t plan for that to happen. He lives in the same neighborhood and the coffee shop and park are near us. You can’t give either of us a hard time for that.”
“But you’re together now,” he points out matter of fact.
“He’s being a supportive friend. You have no reason to be jealous.”
My voice lacks heart, knowing there’s absolutely a good rest for him to be jealous. It’s Christian we’re taking about.
“He’s you Ex, Ally. That’s enough to make me uncomfortable.”
“And you said you wanted him in our lives!” I yell, hot in the face. “Are you retracting that now?”
His heavy sigh is not very encouraging.
“No, of course not... but I think even he can understand why I’m concerned.”
My eyes dart to Christian. He nods and shrugs in agreement, and suddenly my face is struck with guilt and shame.
“I’m not going to argue with you,” Ryan says, calmly. “I think we both need to cool down and call it a night. We can start fresh in the morning. And I promise—calling you will be my top priority.”
“If that’s what you want,” I say, reluctantly.
“It’s not what I want, but I think it’s best.”
I sigh and switch the phone to my other hand.
“Please know how much I love you,” he suggests, his voice dripping with remorse.
“I love you too,” I say, sincere in my delivery.
Mad or sad, loving Ryan isn’t hard. It’s everything else that’s difficult. Our communication being the biggest problem right now. Maybe we’re not as comfortable expressing our needs and desires as I thought.
“I meant for that to go better,” I confess, setting my phone on the table.
“Emotions tend to get the best of us when we’re hurting. But you had every right to be upset. I think he knows he messed up and me being here only amplified his guilt.”
“Probably. This distance thing sucks. Relationships are hard enough.”
“I agree.” A sharp ding emits from Christian’s pants and his hand moves swiftly to his pocket. “Relationships take a lot of effort from both sides to be successful,” he continues, pulling out his phone to send a quick text.
“How are things with Tess?” I ask, wondering if that’s who he just messaged.
He raises a brow. “Do you really want to talk about that right now? He asks, sensitive to my demeanor.
“I guess not.” I shrug, a little embarrassed. “But there are some things I need to tell you.”
“Go for it,” he urges, leaning back against the couch.
“Earlier today, I thought a lot about how I cope with hard times. You already know this, but I struggled with my feelings for Ryan at the beginning of the school year and used distractions to help me deal with those feelings. Sneaking into the ‘adult only’ event at The Gallery is one example. Obviously that turned out better than expected because I met you, but I know it wasn’t the best way to deal with my emotions.
It only got worse from there. Once I realized Ryan was leaving me, I made a more destructive choice. I was quick to grab a hard drink from the pantry to manage my grief and anxiety. I know alcohol isn’t a healthy coping mechanism. Not in the way I used it.”
“I agree with you...But I’m curious. Why are you bringing all this up now?”
“Because ultimately, reflecting on my poor choices led me back to the night you and I were very close to being intimate. I want you to know why I couldn’t—or wouldn’t—sleep with you. It had nothing to do with you or our relationship. And it certainly wasn’t because I didn’t love you...I can finally admit I was afraid. Afraid that if I slept with you, I would lose Ryan’s respect forever. But I see now, how warped and unhealthy that thinking was...My mistake was focusing on the what-if’s and the fear, instead of on our happy, sustainable relationship. I’m sorry for that.”
“Ally, I appreciate your honesty and insightful reflection more than I can express. But you don’t have to apologize. Looking back, I realize the underlying problem in our relationship...”
My breathing stops with his dramatic pause.
“We are both at very different stages in life. You’re still so young and finding your way, so to speak. And I’ll be honest, sometimes I pushed that fact aside, not because it was irrelevant, but because I wanted you and I to work—no matter the circumstances or the cost. I was being selfish in my love for you.”
“No. If anything I was the selfish one. I wanted you both in my life, and I didn’t know how to make that work. You were never selfish.”
“Well, I’m glad it didn’t seem that way, but ultimately I was. At eighteen, you’re still experiencing things for the first time, and in a way that’s unique to my own personal experiences. I should’ve been more sensitive and more understanding in our relationship—especially that night. In fact, I still regret the way things ended. You wanted to talk and figure things out and I pushed you away. Ironically, your behavior was notably more mature. I let my pride get in the way.”
“Maybe you did, but I think we both know my desire to remain anchored to Ryan is the real cause of our relationship demise. It was never your fault. Never anything you did...I just needed you to know that...” My voice drops off as I gaze upon his rueful smile.
“Thank you for clarifying for that,” he says, leaning over, resting his elbows on his knees.
“I think we better call it a night too,” he suggests, gently knocking his kneecap to mine.
There’s a sinking sensation in my chest, but I know he’s right
“OK,” I say, hiding my defeated psyche. I thrust my leg at his, mimicking his playfulness. The smile we share transitions to a longing gaze and a quiet moment of thoughtfulness.
“Get some rest,” he finally says, opening his arms to hug me.
I squeeze his neck and shoulders with my arms. “I will.”
After grabbing his jacket, he gets up and presents me a stern look, “No more night runs...deal?”
I chuckle. “Not without my running partner.”
“Good answer.” He grins.
As he starts to leave the room, I stand. “Hey, Christian...,” I say, soft and sweet. “Thank you for being such a great friend. It means a lot to me.”
“You make it easy.” He smiles. “I’ll see you soon.”