“Well, I guess peanut butter pancakes will do,” Derek commented awkwardly, and Cindy smiled a little and took a bite of her pancake.
“I didn’t think you remembered,” she raised an eyebrow at him, challenging, and he shrugged nonchalantly.
“Are you kidding me? Your mom made the best peanut butter cookies in the whole city. That’s the kind of thing that sticks with you throughout life.”
Cindy gave a light chuckle, soft and delicate, which took Derek a little aback. Now that he thought about it, he did remember Cindy as being all Princess Diana through high school, elegant and delicate. But time went by and that image of ’Ray-Ray’s Cindy got into his head and now he sort of expected her to let out a snort or a loud nasal laugh, and instead, she chuckled like a kitten.
She purrs like one, too.
No. No. No. Bad brain. Bad brain, Derek thought. We’re supposed to get rid of the awkward tension. Not helping. Nope. Definitely not helping.
He cleared his throat.
“Does your mom still make those miracle cookies?” he asked as casually as he could.
“I’m afraid not,” she answered without batting an eyelash. “My mom died when I was a sophomore.”
Derek stopped chewing and stared at her helplessly.
“Oh,” he muttered dumbly. “I had no idea. I’m sorry. How could I have had no idea?”
Cindy shrugged like it was no big deal. “We’re not exactly friends, Derek. We weren’t back then, and we certainly aren’t at this point. But don’t sweat it. The only things I miss about my mom are those cookies.”
Derek swallowed hard and studied her for a moment. There had been a certain bitterness in her voice that sounded so intense it took him by surprise. All of a sudden, it became quite obvious that Cindy hadn’t had the happiest and easiest of lives back then.
“Oh,” he said again. “That’s—“
“None of your concern,” she cut him off sharply, and Derek found himself keeping his mouth shut. “Now, you said you might remember something about that address I need.”
He cleared his throat and scratched his head absent-mindedly.
“Yeah, I don’t know. I remember throwing it away, but I did catch a look on what was written there. There were, like, about a dozen complicated directions. I can jot down some of the bits I remember if you want me to.”
She shot him a small smile and pulled out a pen and a notebook from her purse, handing them to him.
“That would be great, thanks.”
“So, what’s this about anyway? What’s at that address that has you so worked up about?” Derek asked her as he scribbled some random names of streets on the paper.
“It’s an I.T. and tech enterprise. I have this huge interview tomorrow,” she answered, rubbing her temples in a gesture that showed she was clearly stressed out.
Derek stopped writing and looked at her.
“What, at this address? I mean, in this area?”
He turned the paper towards her to show her what he’d scribbled on it and Cindy just shrugged.
“I guess,” she replied, and Derek raised his eyebrows.
“Cindy, that’s one of the best I.T. firms in Seattle. I know exactly where the headquarters is.”
“You do?” she frowned.
“Of course. My dad used to work there before retiring. In fact, I could probably give you a lift to your interview tomorrow, if you want me to.”
Cindy blinked, surprised by his offer, and they sat in silence for a few seconds. Derek himself had been surprised to hear the words come out of his mouth. So what, were they BFF’s now? Why was he offering to play taxi driver for her? But then he remembered it was his fault she was in this mess, because he’d thrown away that piece of paper, so he felt like he kind of owed it to her to make up for it.
Eventually, Cindy nodded. “Yeah. Yeah, that’d be great. Thanks.”
Ray spent the whole day at work being edgy and grumpy. The library had always been his happy place, the place he could go when he needed it most, the place that provided the safety and quiet for his mind. But right now, it was a place where he had to be for two more hours before heading home and that held his thoughts away from Sky.
He looked at the clock with hatred one more time. He could swear that thing was moving backwards now, because the hours spent at the library had never, not once, seemed so long.
He’d left Sky back in his apartment this morning, since he’d been unable to get her to leave the bed. But he trusted her enough to leave her a copy of his key and ask her to lock up when she decided to finally wake up. They hadn’t talked about when he’d see her next, but he also trusted her enough to show up again at some point.
He glared at the half-open book staring back at him from the counter, the one he’s started the night when he’d met Sky and from which he hadn’t been able to read a single page ever since. There had been no need for that. Books had always been his solace, small parts of never-ending universes that he could lose himself into and in which he’d scattered small bits of himself. But ever since that night, he found himself drained of that urge to open a book and get lost in it. Because Sky was an endless book written in bright blue ink, an open highway leading to nowhere, and Ray had never been more eager to hit a road filled with uncertainty. Because this whole thing could go all kinds of wrong. But damn, could it go all kinds of right.
He checked the clock again. One more hour. Just one more hour. He even wished Derek was here to mock him and pass the time, that’s how bored out of his mind he was. Now that he thought about it, Ray realized it was rather weird. Derek was always here to get on his nerves, every single day, with no exception, and they’d kinda made a habit out of heading home together. But this was the second day Derek didn’t show up without even making up some half-assed excuse for his sudden disappearance. He’d have to give him a call later to check up on him.
On that note, he was grateful at least one good thing had come out of Derek’s awfully bad decision to hook up with Cindy Bennett. She was gone, too. No more ear-piercing ‘Ray-Rays’, no more high heels breaking his silence, no more red curls to torment his nightmares. And maybe this had something to do with Sky having been so brutal the other day, even though she couldn’t have known the impact her little made-up story would have on Cindy. Either way, Cindy was gone and Ray’s peace was back.
Fifteen more minutes. Good God, finally.
“Hey, kid, you can head home if you wanna. I’ll wrap things up for tonight,” his boss patted him on his shoulder, bringing him out of his reverie, and Ray raised his eyebrows.
“Really. You’re always on time and working so hard, I think you’ve earned the right to ditch for these last fifteen minutes. Besides, you’ve been fussing all day. Your head’s clearly somewhere else.”
Ray scratched the back of his neck awkwardly.
“Sorry about that, sir.”
“Yeah, don’t sweat it, kiddo. See you tomorrow.”
Ray grabbed his things and headed home, fantasizing about the next time when he’d see Sky. As he waited for the bus to arrive, his thoughts flew to that night when she’d approached him weeks ago, with her peach coat and her umbrella, walking steadily towards him, like she owned the rain, like there was some small part of herself in each droplet of rain that fell over Ray, kissing his cheeks, resting on his eyelashes, soothing his pouty lips. Ray wondered if their next encounter would be as breathtaking as all of their previous ones. But this was Sky. He trusted she’d show up again, blowing his mind and blinding his senses and stopping his heart and making him aware of every little string his soul was made of that she could play flawlessly. And then he’d have to pull himself together again and figure out a way to get under her skin the way he’d promised her he would, because wasn’t one to keep under lock and key. Sky was like the bird that willingly lands on your shoulder as if she’s chosen you. And thank the Lord, she’d chosen Ray. He just had to make her want to stay.
He stopped in front of his apartment door and pulled the keys out of his pocket, trying the lock. It didn’t work. Huh. This was odd. He tried again, but nothing happened. What the hell? Was his key broken or something? It occurred to him to try the door, pressed the doorknob and, to his surprise, the door opened. Okay, what the hell?
He walked inside his own apartment, his muscles tense in anticipation at going over the possibility that someone might have broken in. He looked around, but nothing seemed to be missing or misplaced. Now this was definitely weird.
Frowning, he walked inside the kitchen, and his muscles relaxed. He should’ve known better.
Yes, it was most definitely breathtaking. And it did blow his mind and blind his senses and stop his heart. Because right there, in his kitchen, on his counter, sat Sky, wearing nothing else but a wide smile and a white T-shirt of his, too large on her, but still revealing her long, milk-white legs. Ray took a sharp intake of breath, trying to wrap his mind around the facts and trying to let his body adjust to her presence.
At his sight, Sky rolled her eyes playfully, swinging those goddamn legs that made Ray’s head spin over the counter.
“About time, Ray of Sunshine,” she mocked. “Pizza was getting cold.”
Ray simply blinked at her. “Hi,” he said dumbly.
She jumped down from the counter and walked towards him like a cat, stopping right in front of him, but without touching him.
“Pizza?” he brought himself to raise an eyebrow.
Sky shrugged nonchalantly. “I was hungry.”
Ray sighed, but couldn’t help a smile from spreading wide across his lips.
“You’re not gonna offer an explanation for this, are you?” he shook his head, amused.
Sky rolled her eyes again. “As a matter of fact, Ray of Sunshine, you did give me a key, remember?”
“Right,” he replied. “I did. What I did not, however, was expect this. Did you even leave the apartment?”
Her lips curved upwards, and she finally wrapped her arms around his neck, whispering barely inches from his lips.
“Maybe I did. Maybe I didn’t.”
Ray’s hands flew instinctively to her waist. “You and your schemes.”
She chuckled lightly, the sound of it like an anthem that he recognized to Ray’s ears, a sound he couldn’t get enough of, a first chord that she played on those strings of his. And he was in complete tune in her small hands.
“Come on, Ray of Sunshine,” she spoke after placing a small peck on his lips. “I’m starving. Where should we eat?”
“To be honest, I don’t even care,” Ray’s grip tightened on her waist. “For all I care, I’d never move from this place.”
To enhance his words, he simply pulled her down without losing his grip on her, until they were both sitting on the kitchen floor, their backs against the counter, fingers intertwined, simply bathing in each other’s presence. Ray wanted to tell her so many things. He wanted to let her know how he ached to decorate this apartment with her scent all over it, only so that he could breathe her in constantly and never lose that Sky feeling he had all over him when he was with her. He wanted to tell her she was like a song stuck into his head, a soothing melody loud enough to make any background noise die out. He wanted to tell her she was so beautiful, it struck him dumb. He wanted to tell everything. She wanted to tell him she was on the verge of dying from starvation.
She reached up and pulled the box of pizza from the counter and set it between them.
“Now if you don’t mind,” she spoke in a mocking tone. “Can we dig into this? I was not kidding about being deadly hungry.”
Ray chuckled and opened the box, taking a slice.
“Deadly hungry sounds scary,” he mocked her back. “You could’ve eaten without me, you know.”
“You kiddin’ me?” she said, her mouth full of pizza. “Pizza is best shared. And I never share food, Ray of Sunshine. This is as much trust as I can grant a human being.”
Ray tried to ignore her comment, considering this was too nice of a moment to ruin it with a reminder that she wasn’t trusting him with her identity, with her truths. But he really wanted to preserve this feeling, to freeze this evening in time, and he didn’t want it frozen as a fallout.
“So, tell me,” he spoke after a few seconds of eating silently and casually moaning at how good this pizza was. “What have you been doing all day?”
“Oh, you know,” her sly smile was back. “This and that. Ran some errands. Grabbed a pizza and came back to see you.”
“Wow,” Ray rolled his eyes. “Such a full day, and such a graphic description. I could barely keep up. Would you mind repeating?”
She laughed and bumped her shoulder into his.
“Dork,” she muttered. “What about you? How was your day?”
“Endlessly boring. I can’t seem to enjoy my time at the library as much lately. It’s not as satisfying. I think I’ve been wanting a little more than that for a while now, but then something came around and started distracting me, and it occurred to me it might really have ceased to be enough.”
Sky stopped chewing and looked at him pensively. Eventually, she resumed eating and smiled smugly.
“Gee. I wonder what could possibly be distracting you, having such a huge stick up your ass to focus on. I may or may have not considered the possibility that you’re a little wooden puppet I’m supposed to turn into a real boy.”
“At least my nose doesn’t grow when I lie,” he rolled his eyes at her reference. “And my distraction comes in many shapes and forms. For starters, it may or may have not materialized before my eyes as a long-legged beauty looking jaw-dropping hot in my T-shirt. Which, by the way, you can keep. Looks hotter on you than it ever would on me.”
Sky threw her head back laughing and leaned in to kiss his cheek, noticing with no small amount of smugness that his face was a little flushed, even though his gaze didn’t meet hers, the smallest of smiles glued to his lips. Sky was taken aback by how pure his heart was. He was passionate, a burning ember in every way, but there were times like this, when this overwhelming flame released small sparks, each of them carefully shaped and bright on their own, a beautiful and fascinating individuality of theirs as they danced within the same whole. Sky had become addicted to these little sparks. They made it so much easier for her to be enraptured by the flame itself.
“So, about that library thing,” she grew serious after a few more minutes of comfortable silence. “Since you’re not sure it’s enough for you anymore. Have you thought about pursuing that ‘more’ that you feel you could achieve? Maybe there’s more to it than long-legged beauties and being a librarian.”
Ray chuckled, but his heart grew a little at the thought of having her even the tiniest bit concerned about his own concerns.
“Me being a librarian was supposed to be temporary,” he said, but then thought it through and rephrased it. “It is temporary. I went to law school, and this is the carrier I’ve been dreaming about ever since I was a kid. But I’ve been applying for internships for months now, and I haven’t had any feedback so far.”
He was looking straight ahead, vaguely aware he’d kind of poured his soul into Sky’s lap, but if she minded, she didn’t say a word. Instead, she reached out and took his hand, giving it a light squeeze. Ray turned his head and saw that she was smiling brightly at him.
“Don’t be silly, Ray of Sunshine,” she spoke softly. “Life functions on a simple principle. If they know how much you value, they’ll take you in. If they don’t, find someone who does, because the last ones were probably just highly educated imbeciles anyway.”
Ray laughed whole-heartedly. Highly educated imbeciles. Good God, this woman.
“I guess you’re right,” he squeezed her hand back. “Thanks.”
She rolled her eyes playfully in a way that dismissed the whole thing as no big deal, and then she stood up, pulling him with her. And Ray told himself he was beyond lucky. Whatever was to come, this was good. Maybe the whole thing he had with Sky was weird and confusing and frustrating regarding him not knowing the first thing about her, but it was beautiful in its simplicity. He never thought he’d find such contempt in simply lying next to a girl in his kitchen, on the floor, eating pizza and just talking.
But he knew now. This was the whole essence of it.