It was already December. Ray had learned to slowly love autumn, November days, rain and fog and refreshing cold mornings just to have it all taken away from him as winter hit and it all froze into place. Just like with Sky. What good does it do to get one taste, one shred of pure bliss if the emptiness that follows it wears you off worse than it was without having known it?
It had been three weeks, give or take, since he’s last seen Sky on that cold, rainy day, in the bus station. Something about the energy of it that kept coming back to him like a treacherous tide told him they’d meet a guy and he wouldn’t have to chase any more trains or knock down any more old ladies this time. He felt in his gut. It glowed within him every time he remembered her eyes from that night, that smile, the way she’d turned on her heels without as much as a goodbye, because maybe this wasn’t goodbye. He wanted so badly to believe this.
So he waited. A few days passed, and he was giddy and excited and even let Derek have his way with kinky jokes and role-play fantasies that left little to imagination. Then a week passed and Ray told himself maybe the universe needed some time to sort things out before throwing Sky at him. Then two weeks passed, and he was getting edgy and impatient and he was kinda losing hope. Then three weeks passed and he admitted to himself there was no such thing as the universe working in his favor. No such thing as meant to be. It’s up to you to make it happen. But now he’d lost three full weeks waiting around for some silly miracle and he felt like slapping himself for how utterly delusional he’d been. Since when did science club kid Ray Cartwright believe in miracles and invisible forces of the universe?
He sighed and snapped his book shut. Sky had gotten under her skin and it itched right beneath surface, making him feel like crawling out of his flesh. No one had ever before been able to set him on fire like this. No, not set him on fire. Make him find comfort in burning. And he ached for that feeling, for that flame, for that daze. He’d been so stupid to let her go like that. So damn stupid.
He started to absent-mindedly work registers, counting the minutes until he could finally go home. He lacked patience whatsoever lately because of this whole this with Sky. He still had about an hour or two before closing hours and he was pretty sure Derek was about to walk in any minute now, like he did every day. And fortunately, Cindy had spared him her presence as well for these past weeks, which was quite fortunate for her, since he wasn’t sure he could restrain himself from snapping at her given his current mood.
“Cartwright, special delivery for you.”
Ray looked up at his boss’ voice and raised an eyebrow when he threw a pack on the desk. It was a medium-sized box, wrapped in light blue paper and with a darker blue ribbon. He frowned at it and looked back at his boss.
His boss huffed.
“Do I look like a freaking delivery boy, Cartwright? No clue, some chick dropped it off for you.”
Ray rolled his eyes. Just when he thought he had some Cindy-free time, she had to go do something like this. He really needed to let her down gentle, once and for all, because this wasn’t healthy for either of them.
He sighed as he unwrapped the box, wondering what kind of lame idea she’d come up with in order to get him now. But when he opened it, he froze into place for a second and frowned. He reached inside and pulled out Love in the time of cholera. This was odd. Why would Cindy give him a copy of his favorite book? How did Cindy even know what his favorite book was? He’d never talked to Cindy about such things, considering things usually revolved around her shamelessly flirting with him and him awkwardly avoiding her.
But then Ray’s breath caught as a word popped into his head. It was a long shot, but if there was even the slightest chance that this was true, it was enough for him to put all his hope into it.
His breath was shallow and his heart was beating hard against his chest. He turned the cover and there, on the first page, was written in cursive, neat handwriting, The sky is the limit.
Holy mother of God, this was happening.
He laughed breathlessly and felt dizzy for a second. And if he had any more doubts, he caught peak of something else inside the box and reached inside just to pull out a silver, intricate mask. He didn’t need more than half a heartbeat to recognize it as the mask Sky had worn that night, on Halloween, at the masquerade. She was the one who’d sent this box and his head was spinning so fast he thought he was going to be sick.
“I see you’ve piece it together.”
This was it. The voice he’d worn as a soundtrack inside his head for the past few weeks. Soft and articulate. He raised his gaze and saw Sky leaning against the doorframe at the library’s entrance, her arms crossed over her chest, a playful smile on her lips, wearing the same peach coat.
“Sky,” he whispered, not trusting his voice to stay steady enough in order to form a whole sentence.
Her smile grew and she shoved her hands in the coat’s pockets as she walked towards him with the small, precise, sensual steps of a feline. And he was the mouse.
“So, I woke up this morning,” she spoke slowly, enhancing every word, looking at Ray through her lashes, knowing exactly the effect she had on him. “And I told myself the universe is being a little too lazy for my taste.” Ray smiled and shook his head, because he’d been thinking the same thing for a while now. She stopped in front of the desk, leaned a little forward on her elbows and spoke again. “So I walked past the library and I saw you here, chewing on your pencil. You were constantly running your hands through your hair.” She bit her lip, her blue eyes sparkling. “And I thought I wanted to do, that, too.”
Ray raised an eyebrow, not following anymore.
“You sent me a book because you wanted to run your hands through your hair?” he asked, confused, and Sky rolled her eyes, leaning in more and drawing small circles with her finger on the back of his hand, making him shiver.
“No, dumbass,” she chuckled, then lowered her voice to a whisper. “I wanted to run my hands through yours.”
Ray’s eyes widened slightly and he gulped. This was all it took. He wasn’t even sure what sold the deal. Maybe it was the seductive frequency of her voice. Maybe the intensity of her eyes and the glint dancing within them. Maybe it was her light touch leaving a map of goosebumps on his skin. Or maybe it was her intoxicating presence and the fact that she was here, standing before him, in his library, in the daylight. She was palpable and he was having a hard time processing that.
But his brain worked fast. He was like a junkie after three weeks of rehab. Like the first drink of an alcoholic after three weeks of being sober. A glass of water after a long hot summer day. He was going to take this chance while he still had it in front of him and he was going to enjoy the hell out of it.
Without thinking twice, he circled the desk until he stood in front of Sky and, as she was watching him curiously, he grabbed her wrist without thinking twice and tried not to flinch at the sudden outburst of electricity as he led her through the shelves. He always thought this talk about ‘electricity at touch’ he’d read about in books was complete bullshit. It’s just touch. Skin. He had never been that fond of direct contact with people, truth be told. But it was real, and with Sky, it was overly amplified. Touching wasn’t just touching, it was connecting, and skin wasn’t just skin, it was empty canvas. And it was electrifying. No gesture was meaningless, and every point of contact was like a separate giant star bursting into its very own supernova. It was mind-blowing and it felt so insanely natural.
The way Ray made his way through the shelves like he was walking through a maze and Sky was waiting at the center of it, but then he remembered she was there, his hand in his and following him quietly, an amused and curious expression glued to her face.
Finally, Ray stopped as they reached the spot he had in mind and he turned to her abruptly, making her bump into his chest, and didn’t wait for her to speak before finding her lips and capturing them in a kiss. Sky gasped against his mouth and gave a breathless chuckle as she wrapped her arms around his neck and pulling him closer. He obeyed and walked her backwards until her back was against a shelf and kissed her senseless and she kissed him senseless as well until they were nothing but clay figures standing breathlessly wrapped in each other’s arms, smiling dumbly at each other.
Neither of them spoke and they just stood there, forehead against forehead, breathing the same air, Sky gripping his collar tightly and Ray’s hands steady at her waist, until his smile grew wider and hers faltered.
“Ray,” she whispered, closing her eyes and biting her lip, and Ray’s grip on her tightened.
“Don’t,” he whispered back. “I know that voice. You’re not walking out on me. Not again. I’ve been going crazy, not being able to find you. So I’m not letting you go this time.”
She smiled weakly, and pulled him in for another quick kiss, then studied him through her lashes, running her finger gently across his full lips.
“I’ve got nothing to give you, Ray,” she spoke helplessly.
“I don’t care,” he replied, and found himself meaning it against everything he’d ever thought about himself and about anything at all.
“I mean it. You don’t understand. I can’t ask anything of you since I can’t even let you in my life. I can’t even give you me. I can only give you Sky.”
Ray smiled despite himself. “You can’t offer me the sky and pretend it’s not enough.”
Sky chuckled and slapped his shoulder playfully. “I’m serious.”
Ray kissed her forehead lightly and sighed, growing serious as well. “I know. But I am, too. I don’t care. I don’t care if you won’t tell me your name, or who you are, or where you come from or where you do, I do not care as long as you’re here. I’m too wrapped up in your little game at this point. I stand by what I said that night, Sky. Lead the way. However you might want to. I’ll follow.”
“All in?” she asked with a small smile on her lips, almost sheepishly. Ray found himself wanting that smile to end up on his lips, because sheepish suited her in the most weird, delicious way.
“All in,” he replied and went for another kiss, and just as their lips were millimeters apart, barely brushing against each other, he heard the sharp sound of high heels echoing in the whole library. Ray groaned against Sky’s lips. “Not now. Good God, not now.”
He pulled apart and closed his eyes, unwrapping a hand from Sky’s waist to rub his eyes. Sky watched him curiously, smiling confused.
“What’s wrong?” she asked, removing his hand from his eyes and forcing him to look at her. Ray grimaced.
“The devil’s spawn is here,” he muttered under his breath, and Sky gave a whole-hearted laugh, which made Ray place a hand over her lips to muffle her laughter, even though the sound of it made his skin prickle. “Shhh, she’ll hear you.”
Sky’s shoulders were shaking with laughter, even though Ray’s hand still covered her mouth, but she removed it a few seconds later.
“Oh, come on, Ray of Sunshine,” she said, still giggling. “Whoever this is, I’m sure it can’t be that bad. Plus, I can hear heels, what is this, The devil wears Prada?”
Ray bit his lip against his laughter. “Worse,” he replied. “There’s this girl who’s been having a crush since high school.”
That just made Sky laugh even harder. “Look at you, little Ray of Sunshine giving girls the hots. They grow up so fast.”
Ray smiled and shook his head playfully. “You and Derek would get along so well,” he said, and when he saw Sky’s confused expression, it occurred to him he hadn’t introduced the two of them. “Oh, that’s right. Derek’s my—“
“Ray? Ray-Ray, are you there?” they heard Cindy’s voice somewhere near them.
“Shit,” Ray cursed under his breath as Sky mouthed ’Ray-Ray’ to him before bursting into a new round of giggles.
“Oh my God, this should be fun,” she exclaimed and grabbed Ray’s hand, pulling him in the direction where they’d heard Cindy’s voice.
“Sky,” Ray called, panic obvious in his voice, which made the whole situation even funnier for Sky. “What are you doing? Sky, just—“
But she wouldn’t listen, and a few seconds later, they found Cindy, looking slutty as ever, a pouty shape of her lips anticipating the flirt she intended to throw in Ray’s direction soon enough. For a moment, she didn’t see Sky standing there, her whole attention focused on Ray, and she opened her mouth to speak when her gaze finally rested on Sky’s silhouette and clouds darkened her expression.
“Hello,” Sky greeted her politely, and Cindy frowned. Ray bit his lip, wishing to be anywhere but here. Oh boy, this was going to get ugly.
“Who are you?” Cindy asked, not bothering with manners or pleasant introductions.
The three of them sat in silence until Ray realized both girls were looking at him expectantly and he cleared his throat awkwardly.
“Yeah, umm,” he began, stammering, rubbing the back of his neck in utter embarrassment, not knowing how to explain Cindy to Sky or Sky to Cindy. “Cindy, this is, umm… I mean, she’s… Um, yeah. And Sky, she’s, I-I mean, this is Cindy—“
Sky’s giggles interrupted his lame attempt at explaining the situation, and Ray had time for about two seconds of being grateful before he realized this could only have gone worse.
“Oh, Ray-Ray,” Sky shook her head amused, and Ray groaned internally. What game was she playing now? “You absolute dork. I’m sorry, you must be Cindy, right? I’ve heard a lot about you?”
Ray’s eyebrows shot up. Had she?
“Have you?” Cindy asked, looking at Sky suspiciously. “’Cause I haven’t heard a thing about you.”
Sky blinked a few times and Ray thought she was a little stuck and didn’t know how to respond, but then she slapped her forehead theatrically.
“Figures,” she smiled a fake sad smile. “Sure he wouldn’t mention me. After all, you’re the girl he’s been in love with for so long.”
Ray choked on air and Cindy shot them an incredulous look. What. The actual. Fuck.
“Excuse me?” Cindy asked in her high pitched voice that scratched Ray’s ears.
Sky gasped and covered her mouth with her hand, eyes wide. “Oh, my. I screwed up, didn’t I? Ray, you mean she didn’t know?” She clicked her tongue then turned to Cindy. “Well, now you do. He’s been going bonkers over you and all that I could hear from the moment I met him was Cindy this, Cindy that. It took a lot of hard work to get him over you, and I mean, a lot of hard work. If you know what I mean.”
She winked, and Ray lost his shit. He put a hand over his mouth and turned around so that Cindy couldn’t see his violent outburst of giggles, and hoped his shoulders shaking with laughter wouldn’t give him away. But when he turned around, Cindy was just looking at Sky, blinking, so heartbroken Ray actually felt bad for her.
“Ray had a crush on me?” she asked in a small voice and Sky nodded vigorously. “And now he’s over it?” Sky nodded again. “And he’s with you now?”
Ray actually held his breath for a small second, waiting for Sky’s answer, when she pursed her lips and nodded again.
“Oh, yeah, totally,” she answered. “In fact, his mom keeps pressuring us to start trying for a baby. Clock’s ticking and we won’t be this young forever.”
Ray bit his lip so violently against his laughter he thought he’d start drawing blood and he couldn’t believe how straight-faced Sky was. This woman.
“Oh,” Cindy said, her eyes blank. “I gotta go.”
She didn’t wait for them to reply before turning on her heels and rushing out of the library, and Sky and Ray burst into hysteric laughter as soon as they heard the front door close after her. They hardly calmed down minutes later and Ray shook his head incredulously at this nut-head of a woman.
“I think I went a little overboard,” Sky said between giggles, thinking about how Cindy had fled, small tears dancing in the corners of her eyes.
Ray huffed and gave another breathless laugh, raising his eyebrows at her. “You think?”
There was still one hour left until Ray was supposed to close the library and Derek rushed there, eager to tell him about his date the other night. And maybe, just maybe get the poor bastard’s ass to go out with him tonight, try to pick up some random chick for him to get his mind off that Halloween girl he’d been pinning for. I swear, Derek thought, it’s like this guy enjoys being sad and sulking. I should be sad and sulking for having a friend who can’t score even when the goal keeper practically begs you to score.
He turned on the corner to the library, replaying that crazy date in his head and hoping Ray would give him the chance to tell him about it before launching into another teary-eye conversation about the Sky chick, when he bumped into a small silhouette.
“Whoa,” he exclaimed. “Gee, watch your step.”
He caught the girl’s shoulders and caught glimpse of copper red curls. And he only knew one person with copper red curls. Well, one that he remembered and hadn’t slept with.
“Umm, sorry,” Cindy spoke, wiping her eyes, and Derek saw that she was crying.
Oh, man. Just when I needed.
He pondered whether he should’ve just ignored her and pretended he hadn’t seen anything, or to check if she was okay. Crying chick. Man, he really sucked at this.
Cindy was about to walk past him and keep going her way when Derek cursed under his breath and turned around, calling after her.
“Wait, Cindy,” he called, and she stopped walking and turned slightly to him. “Are you, umm, are you okay?”
She forced a smile that came off as more of a grimace, then she raised her arms slightly just to let them drop by her body.
“No,” she admitted. “I’m not. But I intend to go get drunk until I can’t remember my name, so I guess I will be.”
She turned around and started walking away without waiting for an answer from Derek. He cursed again under his breath. She didn’t strike him as the kind of girl who knew how to get drunk safely. Or the kind who’d even gotten drunk. Part of him wanted to shrug it off and go back to his not caring policy. But the other part of him had gone to high school with this girl and wasn’t exactly okay with her ending up God knows where with God knows who.
So he cursed himself again under his breath.
“Oh, boy, I’m so gonna regret this,” he mumbled to himself, shaking his head, before running after her. “Cindy, wait up.”