The morning light crept through the window timidly, lingering across Cindy’s eyelids and tickling them long enough to make them flutter. She groaned and shut her eyes even tighter, trying and failing to block the sunlight out, so she settled for turning around.
She was vaguely aware of the arm falling over her waist and drawing small patterns on her hip as she rolled over to the other side.
But then it finally dawned on her and she remembered everything about last night. She suppressed another groan at the memory and buried her head in the crook of Derek’s neck. His grip on her waist tightened and he pulled her a little closer.
She eventually mustered the courage to pull a little back and open her eyes, just to find Derek wide awake, already staring down at her, a sheepish smile on his face. Sheepish suited him in a way that looked so wrong it almost seemed right. Because he’d saved that one for her. She wasn’t sure she wanted to face the implications of that.
“Hi,” Cindy bit her lip and held his gaze.
“Morning,” Derek replied, and they sat in silence, simply bathing in each other’s presence and inhaling each other until he eventually broke the silence again. “Just so you know, we’re fully clothed this time.”
The spell was broken and Cindy burst out laughing whole-heartedly, something she hadn’t done in a while. It was like Derek had crawled inside the depths of her being and she found she was perfectly fine with letting him scout it out. Of all the people, Derek McCarter had been the one to slowly make his way to becoming a knight on her chess table.
“I’m aware,” she chuckled, but grew serious within the second, wrinkling her nose. “I don’t know which one is scarier.”
Derek blinked, his thumb still drawing invisible patterns on her hip and setting her skin on fire.
“Waking up naked next to you or waking up fully dressed next to you,” Cindy explained.
And she meant that more than she could explain to Derek. Sleeping with him was a simple equation. He was a player, she’d been in need of distractions, equals hooking up. But waking up in his arms after she’d poured her soul out to him last night, after he’d held her as she cried herself to sleep, this was what fried her wires. She and Derek were water and oil. They simply don’t mix, no matter how much you force them to. And yet, for some reason, she’d chosen to come to him. She definitely wasn’t ready to face the implications of that.
“I’m not scared.”
Cindy’s eyes widened at his words. “What?”
Derek sat up and propped in an elbow, his hand leaving her waist just so that he could play with one of her red curls. He ran his fingers down the length of that curl, his face more serene and his eyes more clear than she’d ever seen. This was the Derek McCarter she’d known in high school. The sweet bad boy-wanna be with kind eyes and warm smile she’d been so drawn to. All those childhood and teenage feelings came rushing back to her with grown-up intensity, and it knocked the breath out of her lungs.
Derek took a deep breath and spoke, the back of his fingers traveling across Cindy’s cheek with a gentleness neither of them thought him capable of.
“I’m not scared at all, Cindy. This whole thing of ours, whatever it is, it’s crazy and unexpected and weird as hell, and I won’t pretend I understand what’s going on. But for starters, I don’t care.”
Cindy glared playfully, biting her lip against the smile growing on her lips.
“Ain’t that reassuring,” she mumbled, making Derek narrow his eyes and pinch her nose, and she chuckled.
“What I mean is,” Derek continued, just as serious. “Whatever’s going on, I’m willing to let it happen. I’ve got no clue where this is going and we might end up regretting it or it might end up being amazing. I’m taking my chances.”
Cindy looked at him mesmerized, not sure how to respond to that. Derek was pouring his soul out and it was resonating with hers, vibrations filling a void within her that was deep and cold as a longing. She placed her hand on Derek’s chest, feeling the strong beats of his heart against her palm.
“With the risk of sounding fifty kinds of cliché,” Cindy spoke, looking at him through her lashes, and Derek’s breath caught a little in his throat, as much as he hated to admit it. “But why? Why aren’t you scared? Why are you taking chances? You and I, Derek? We’re hurricanes. We don’t stand a chance.”
Shit bit her lip, sincerely hoping she hadn’t hurt his feelings. She hadn’t meant it in a brutal friend-zoning way. On the contrary, she was genuinely curious and she genuinely believed whatever interaction would happen between them was purely physics. Oil and water. Unlikely, right?
But Derek surprised her once again. His feelings seemed fine enough as he watched her with a lazy sleepy smile glued to his face, his eyes traveling across her face for so long Cindy was becoming self-conscious. And then he closed the distance between them and she was so sure he was going to kiss her and screw physics, because she was gonna let him. Perhaps oil and water don’t mix. But it occurred to her that they were more like magnets repelling each other. Unless you’re stubborn enough. And they had plenty of that.
She closed her eyes and waited for their lips to touch, but they didn’t. Instead, she felt Derek’s lips on her forehead and she let out an embarrassingly loud breath. He sat there for a second, his palm cupping her cheek, and when his lips left her forehead, they were replaced by his forehead and they sat eye to eye, inhaling each other.
“Perhaps we don’t stand a chance,” he whispered to her and his warm breath hit Cindy’s lips and she instinctively licked them in anticipation, watching a little smug as his eyes darted to them, but he tried to refocus on his speech. “Perhaps we’re hurricanes. And I’ve got no fucking clue why I’m not scared and why I’m taking chances.” They both chuckled. “But it’s the first time I don’t feel like running for the hills. And I know it’s a shitty argument, but it’s all I’ve got. Three times I’ve had you in my bed. Don’t know, I guess I kinda like having you here.”
Cindy bit her lip and smiled widely, tracing his jaw line with the tips of her fingers, as if barely learning him.
“What’s your excuse, Bennett?” Derek teased.
Cindy sighed. “You mean other than the fact that you’re the only person who sat me down and listened to me?”
She’d meant that as a sad joke, but Derek’s expression remained the same.
“No,” he spoke. “I mean that three months ago you were still pinning for Ray and I didn’t exist for you. What could I possibly have over Ray to turn you around like that?”
Cindy shrugged and resumed the dance of her fingertips over his skin, and Derek leaned into her touch.
“How do I put this, Derek?” she sighed and smiled up at him. “Ray was a shiny toy you see in stores. And you tell yourself you deserve that toy, that you can have that toy because you’ve been a good kid.”
She turned away from him, sitting on her bed and facing the ceiling. She took it in. She’d humiliated herself so much for it. Like a kid throwing a tantrum in the middle of the story for said toy. She’d been so hung up on believing the universe owed her this much. Owed her the only thing she’d ever wanted in exchange from everything it had taken from her. And when the universe refused to grant her this much, she tried to claim it herself. Foolish. So foolish.
She turned her face again to look at Derek, who watched her expectantly, waiting for her to pull her thoughts together.
“I’m not that girl, Derek,” she tried to explain herself and felt even lamer for attempting so. “Stalker. Desperate. Clingy. Bitchy. I just—“
“I know,” Derek interrupted her. “I’m sorry I didn’t figure it out earlier. Guess you were pretty convincing.”
Cindy chuckled and their gazes locked again.
They sat there, in Derek’s bed, hardly touching, each to one side, hidden under a heavy blanket made of uncertainty and skepticism, but excitement made their skin tingle enough to await for what the horizon brought for the two of them with enough excitement.
Eventually, Derek broke the spell and bit his lip anxiously.
“Cindy,” he spoke carefully. “What about your dad?”
She broke his gaze and ran her hands across her face. “What about him?”
She tried to sound casual and careless, but Derek saw through it and glared at her. When she wouldn’t remove her hands, he gently took her fingers away and cupped her chin, forcing her to face him.
“Cindy,” he scolded.
She sighed loudly. “I know, I know. He’s at the morgue now.” Her voice broke a little. “They’re expecting someone to pick him up and… Y’know, handle things.”
She shook her head and inhaled sharply.
“As far as you’ve told me,” Derek tried again. “There aren’t too many someone’s who can handle things.”
Cindy glared at him and Derek was surprised to see the beginning of tears dancing in the corners of her eyes. As much as Cindy had hated her father, the whole situation took its toll on her, regardless of who she ended up lowering into a grave. She still ended up alone.
“I know, Derek, okay?” she snapped with an exhausted groan. “I know. I need to do that stuff. I have a funeral to plan, but I honestly don’t think I can do it.”
Derek blinked and pursed his lips. He wasn’t sure how to react to that outburst. She was past the grief and had moved on to anger, and something told him this wasn’t a phase in which hugs were mandatory.
“Hey,” he took her hand and ran his fingertips over her knuckles. “You don’t have to do it alone.”
“What?” Cindy turned to him abruptly.
Derek shrugged like it was no big deal.
“If there’s anything I can do to help, count me in. I’m not leaving you alone, Cindy. You don’t have to go through this alone.”
Cindy watched him wide-eyed, his words playing on a loop in her head.
The debt was paid. Now, when she least expected, and in the way she literally least expected, the universe had paid his debt and granted her what she deserved. What it owed her. A single soul who cared.
“Okay,” she replied, not trusting her voice to rise above a whisper.
Derek squeezed her hand and Cindy rested her head on his shoulder. The two of them were playing with fire, dancing with the flames and they were bound to get burned. But Cindy closed her eyes and welcomed the heat, thinking that the universe has really twisted way of bringing you face to face with what you want and never knew you needed.