“This tastes awful,” Ray groaned after the first sip of Sky’s miracle tea, and she glared at him and prompted him to keep drinking.
“It’s not supposed to taste good, you silly Ray of Sunshine, it’s supposed to cure you. And you still owe me a date, you know.”
He smiled coyly and took another sip, trying hard not to grimace so that he wouldn’t hurt her feelings.
“I know,” he answered. “And I’ll make it up to you as soon as I get on my feet.”
She looked at him with that mischievous look in her eyes he’d come to recognize, the one that hinted that she was up to no good, the one that confirmed she was going to raise the stakes once more and challenge him. And man, did he love it.
Her lips curved into a bright, sly smile and Ray waited for the blow.
But so much more.
“Who said anything about you being on your feet?” she asked, and Ray pursed his lips.
“You’re going to need better choices of words, because I grew up with Derek and I’m trying very hard not to be the perv Derek’s turned me into and to stop myself from giggling like a fifth grader who first heard the word ‘boobs’.”
Sky threw her head back laughing, shaking her head slightly at him.
A lot more.
“You dork,” she bumped his shoulder slightly, still chuckling. “No, dumbass. I was talking about you keeping your word about that date right now.”
Ray wrinkled his nose. “That’s a great idea, but your tea is not that miraculous. I still don’t feel well enough to go out right now. But I promise, as soon as—“
“Ray,” she rolled her eyes. “Stop talking.”
He did as told and raised his eyebrows questioningly, watching her as she leaned forward to grab his phone from his nightstand and scrolled down for a while, before dialing a number and holding the phone to her ear, smiling daringly at him.
“Sorry, Derek, it’s not Ray,” she spoke after a while, making Ray’s eyes widen in shock. “Guess again.” A small pause, waiting for Derek to reply. “Yes. That would be me.”
It was everything about her.
“No, Ray’s still down with the flu,” she spoke, smiling at something Derek had said that Ray was probably better off not knowing. “But listen, I need a favor. Can you stop by that Thai restaurant on Roy Street and grab us some food? And a bottle of some fine wine, while you’re at it. Perfect. Yeah. Thanks. See you soon.”
She hung up the phone and turned to Ray, who was gaping at her like she’d grown extra ears. She shrugged nonchalantly, with that easiness with which women hold themselves in the day to day life, harmonized with her own halo of grace and sass and delicacy and strength that made her the way she was.
It was the way how, instead of being a page in Ray’s book, she just took the pen from his hand and started writing it herself.
“What?” she chuckled at him as he kept staring, with that knowing glow all over her, like she was just playing him back and forth and they were both aware of it.
“I’m processing,” Ray mocked her, never breaking her stare, and they just sat there, glaring at each other, until Ray finally rolled his eyes and ran a hand through his hair. “I guess you’re dead set on having that date one way or the other.”
“Dead set,” she confirmed, placing a fast kiss on his cheek that threw Ray fifteen feet over the edge.
She ended up turning herself into Ray’s book. She became his own personal novel. Fifteen feet over the edge. Except she was the edge, the leap, the fall, the rock bottom.
“You’re hot, I’ll give Ray that much,” Derek commented when he dropped up the food and the wine, smiling dumbly, and winking at Sky.
“I heard that, you asshole,” Ray shouted from the bedroom and Sky laughed.
“Thank you. And thanks for running the errand. I’d invite you in for a glass of wine, but—“
She shrugged playfully and Derek leaned in a little, close enough to fake-whisper and loud enough for Ray to hear.
“But you’re gonna get it on.”
Sky burst into laughter, and they could basically hear Ray groan from the other room. “Dude!”
Sky leaned in as well and whispered back, this time too low for Ray’s ears. “Most likely.”
Derek stifled a laugh of his own and he and Sky had those playful sparks in their eyes, sharing a joke, and they instantly knew they’d get along. Eventually, Derek winked and stepped backwards, turning to leave.
“I should get going. Go easy on my guy, Sky, he’s a little… rusty.”
“I heard that!” they heard Ray shout once more from the bedroom and they both cracked.
“Bye, Derek,” Sky said between giggles.
It took one night.
“I don’t know what the hell was in that tea, but I feel a whole lot better,” Ray spoke over a mouthful of Thai food and it tickled Sky’s senses to see him so laid back, so relaxed, so himself compared to the stick-up-his-ass Ray Cartwright the world knew him as.
“It’s a secret recipe, Ray of Sunshine,” she flicked his nose, and he glared. “You don’t expect me to give away all my secrets after one night, do you?”
He stopped chewing and looked at her with a mixture of curiosity and longing and a few drops of regret, and she knew how deep that sentence cut, but said nothing else and smiled at him to let him know it was a joke.
“I guess I don’t,” he replied in a small voice after a second, and returned her smile sheepishly.
Hell, maybe less than that.
“I’m sorry if this wasn’t enough,” Ray spoke after a few minutes of light silence.
“What?” Sky frowned at him. They were sitting on the floor of his living room, Ray with a blanket wrapped around his shoulders, their backs against the couch and Thai leftovers between them.
“This. The date I was supposed to take you on. It was supposed to be the real deal, you know. The kind of date you see in movies, with small talk and hand holding and kissing you good night. I wanted to start over and do this the right way. I did promise you first date material.”
Maybe all it took was that first kiss.
She rolled her eyes and closed the distance between them to capture his lips in a kiss worth over a thousand words. Ray gasped but kissed her back nonetheless, burying his hands in her hair and enjoying the taste of her lips like he could just kiss her for the rest of his life and still, constantly discover more senses to be lit up by the feeling of her mouth on his. They broke the kiss seconds later, gasping for air and smiling dumbly at each other, eyes closed, her hands gripping his collar tightly.
“Whatever definition of ‘first date material’ you’ve managed to come up with,” she spoke breathlessly. “This was so much more, Ray of Sunshine. It was something I never had. And it was perfect, because I had it with you.”
Maybe all it took was the way she had with words that knew exactly what buttons to push.
Ray smiled dumbly at her.
“Are you even real?” he asked despite himself.
Sky chuckled and looked at him confused. “What do you mean?”
“Are you real?” Ray repeated. “I keep thinking I may have made you up. You might as well be a ghost, or a phantom, or some fragment of a wild fantasy of mine, which might get crazy wild, if that’s the case.” Sky laughed at the joke, and Ray chuckled a little, too, and then he kept speaking. “It seems real. It feels real. But I’m scared that at some point, I’ll blink and you’ll be gone and I’ll have realized I had made you up inside my head.”
But whatever it was…
Her smile faded and her features were crossed by an intensity that fazed Ray, a seriousness in her blue eyes that made them look clouded, a tight line of her lips and a tension in her jaw that made him wonder if this was the moment in which he’d be slapped back into a reality in which she wasn’t real. Because if this was truly a dream, waking up was no longer an option.
It was a beautiful nightmare.
But then she took his face in her hands and kissed him slowly, deeply, intensely, no longer urgent and passionate, but soft and gentle, their lips doing one of those medieval dances when the couple isn’t allowed but the lightest touch, skin hardly brushing against skin, in a teasing, promising, intimate choreography.
And when she broke the kiss, Ray couldn’t help but gasp a little, still a thousand questions on his mind, but having the answer sitting right in front of his eyes.
But as he held her all night long in his arms, tangled up in between the sheets, as she kissed away his every doubt and as he kissed away her every insecurity, Ray took the leap and he just knew.
“Wake up, sleepyhead,” Ray kissed his way down from her temple to the smooth skin of her shoulders. “I gotta get to work.”
Sky groaned and rolled over, burying her face in the pillow. “But it’s so early.”
Ray chuckled and buried his nose in the crook of her neck, and she purred like a kitten, leaning into his touch.
“I know,” he whispered against her skin. “But some of us need to work.”
He knew that, regardless of his promise to get her to fall for him….
“But it’s literally the crack of dawn,” she groaned once more, but he could tell she was pretty much awake by now.
“Yes, I am aware,” he replied. “And if I knew what you do for a living, maybe I wouldn’t just sit here wondering why I’m the only one who has to go to work while you get to sleep in.”
She chuckled and turned around in his arms so that she could place a small kiss on his lips.
“Silly Ray of Sunshine,” she spoke against his lips.
…he knew he was freefalling his was through loving Sky.
“I incite storms for a living.”
Derek was sitting in his bed that morning, remembering his encounter with Raymond’s Sky. Derek chuckled to himself. Yeah, in the most literal way, because that girl was truly the impersonation of the sky, of a storm or stuff like that. And man, while the upper pair of eyes was of little interest to him usually, he couldn’t help but notice that she had the prettiest blue eyes he’d ever seen.
Derek sighed. Ever since he’d met her and they’d pretty much hit it off, ever since he got a glimpse of this thing she and Ray had, Derek had had the weirdest feeling.
He was a little jealous. Just a little. An insignificant amount. A teensy teeny tiny bit. Hardly worth mentioning, really.
But he was truly a little jealous of this thing of theirs. Ray’s short history with Sky was the kind of thing you see in movies. Meeting, the whole mystery of it, making out in the rain, chasing her down the streets, the whole bus moment, her showing up at the library like that and now, she was taking care of him when he was sick. And a romantic Thai dinner. Lucky bastard, that Raymond of his.
And it started to dawn on Derek that he was unlikely to have that. No one had ever taught him how to be like that with a girl. He’d grown up with three older brothers who used to be headquarters in high school and had so many girls throwing themselves at them, they’d practically taught Derek for his whole life that the right way to treat a girl, the only way to treat a girl, really, was the ’love ’em and leave ‘em’ policy. So Derek had looked up to his big brothers and had followed in their footsteps, and while they were now married, all three of them, none of them had bothered to tell Derek how to get out of the vicious cycle he was in. And he didn’t know any other way. He didn’t know how to talk to girls unless he was hitting on them.
But he wanted that. That girl movie thing, he wanted to be able to do that. But he didn’t know how, and he was now 25 and had never had an actual girlfriend for more than 6 days straight, but his phone was full of booty call numbers.
He huffed and grabbed his phone, scrolling through the list. Screw this. He was Derek McCarter. He didn’t need chick lit movie moments when he had booty calls. Besides, it wasn’t like the love of his life would simply knock on his door and they’d live happily ever after.
He found the number of a girl called Amanda that he remembered he’d hooked up with months ago and she’d been pretty decent, so he was about to give her a ring for a rematch, when he heard a knock on the door.
He blinked for a few seconds when he remembered his thoughts from earlier, thinking that if this was Raymond, he’d have to propose under the pretext of him being the love of his life knocking on his door.
He got up from the bed, still chuckling a little, and opened the door. And that’s when his smile fell.
Oh, hell no.
“Cindy,” he choked a little. “What are you doing here?”
Cindy stood in the doorway, her hands hidden under the coat in her arms, looking like this was the last place on earth where she wanted to be, blushing to the tips of her ears.
“I, umm,” she began then she cleared her throat. “I forgot my, umm, something here the other day. I mean, umm, night. Morning. Yeah. I forgot something here the other morning when I left. In a hurry. I was in a hurry, so I forgot the, umm, something.”
She was fully stammering her way through this conversation, and Derek was having a hard time wrapping his head around what she was saying, focusing more on the fact that she was standing in his doorway. Oh boy. He was losing track of all the profanities going through his head right now.
“What?” he managed to mumble dumbly, and Cindy sighed, getting herself together.
“I forgot something here. A piece of paper. A very important piece of paper. Therefore, I came here to retrieve it.”
Derek blinked. Simply blinked. Was this really Cindy? Because these were some big, fancy words coming from the Cindy whose ‘Ray-Ray’ shriek had scratched his ears for years now.
“Umm, yeah,” he finally spoke, shaking his head and moving out of the way so that she could come in. “Yeah, come on in. I don’t remember seeing it, but let’s see if it’s around.”
She forced a shy smile and walked in with steady steps, the sound of her heels ringing through the apartment. Well, finally something annoying to remind him how he couldn’t stand her guts. But then she turned to him and it came back to him.
There was still so many details, so many hot details about that night that kept coming back to him at random moments of the day. And as it turned out, it had been a long night and a wild night and having Cindy standing now before him only refreshed his memory.
“Stop looking at me like that,” she spoke sharply, fixating him with her gaze.
Derek rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly. “L-Like what?”
“Like you’re picturing me naked.”
Derek cleared his throat and he was pretty sure his whole face was red. Which didn’t normally happen to him. He wasn’t embarrassed by the fact that he was a total pig. Yeah, he’d accepted that long ago. But this was Cindy. Middle school Cindy. The one who’d occasionally offered him peanut butter cookies for years because she’d overheard him telling Ray how much he loved peanut butter cookies. The only one besides Ray in his whole class who’d never laughed at his stutter back when they were kids and he was being bullied about it. So yeah, their whole hook up situation was a little awkward.
“I kinda was,” he admitted without looking up to meet her scrutinizing gaze.
“Well, stop,” she snapped. “And help me look for that damned paper.”
Derek sighed, glad she’d dropped it and looked dumbly around.
“Well, what did it look like?” he questioned.
“It was a small piece of paper that had an address written on it,” Cindy said. “It must’ve fallen out of my pocket when I was, umm, getting dressed.”
“Oh,” was all Derek could say, but then the realization hit him and he slapped his forehead. “Oh my God, Cindy, I’m so sorry. I did find it yesterday when I got home and I didn’t know what it was so I threw it away. I’m awfully, terribly sorry.”
Cindy closed her eyes and groaned, pinching the bridge of her nose.
“It’s okay,” she said. “You didn’t know.”
“Was it important?”
She sighed. “Yeah. It kinda was. Very important, actually.”
Derek pursed his lips and went on a hunch that he knew he’d end up regretting, but hey, guilt, especially that towards women, even towards those you strongly dislike, can be a strong, compelling feeling.
“I’ll tell you what,” he tried a sheepish smile. “Why don’t you tell me all about it over lunch? I feel really bad about it, screwing it up like that, so buying you lunch is the least I can do.”
She saw Cindy’s shoulders tense a little at the suggestion, and she pursed her lips.
“Derek, I’m not sure that’s such a good idea.”
He forced a chuckle and shoved his hands in his pockets. “Come on, don’t be a buzz kill. Maybe I caught glimpse at the thing that was written on the paper and I’ll be able to dig up some of it, if it helps. Maybe we’ll even get rid of this awkward tension between us.”
He saw a small smile blossom on the corners of her lips and he tried once more.
“Come on. Maybe we’ll even find a place that sells peanut butter cookies, for old times’ sake.”
He instantly regretted having said that, because he wasn’t sure if Cindy remembered those little details about that weird small connection of theirs from back when they were kids. Or worse, maybe she did and she’d read too much into it. But then her shoulders relaxed and she did offer him that small smile that had been playing over her lips.
“Eh, what the hell.”