“You slept with Cindy?” Ray shrieked in the phone and regretted it the second his head started pounding again. He opened the drawer and looked for some more aspirin as he tried to process the information Derek was throwing at him.
He could basically hear Derek scowling at the other side of the line.
“I wouldn’t technically say—“ he tried to defend himself, but Ray cut him off.
“Cut the crap, Derek. This isn’t about technicalities. Out of all the available chicks in Seattle, even those who aren’t available, because it’s not like that’s ever stopped you before, you hook up with Cindy?”
Derek huffed and Ray knew his best friend well enough to understand he was trying to tiptoe his way around the topic.
“Like that’s the gossip of the week,” he argued. “Tell me, Raymond, when were you going to mention meeting up with your mystery lady? What was her name again, Sky?”
Ray sighed. “Now you’re just trying to distract me from the fact that you, Derek McCarter, hooked up with none other than Cindy Bennett.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Derek tried again to switch the topic. “So, about your girl—“
“Derek,” Ray snapped, and he heard his friend give in.
“Raymond, there’s nothing to tell. We had a lot to drink, which wouldn’t have happened if she hadn’t left the library crying and deadly determined to drink you away, I hardly remember anything except for the wham bam, thank you ma’am part, which happened to be shockingly fun, and we agreed to never mention it again.”
Ray was silent for a few seconds. “Yeah. That makes sense.” None of them spoke for a few more moments, when Derek’s words finally sank in. “Wait. Cindy was crying when she left the library?”
“Yeah,” Derek replied. “So, about your girl—“
“I had no idea,” Ray whispered, feeling guilty. “Sky was just messing with her. We didn’t know she was so affected by it. I’m gonna have to apologize.”
“Well, she was,” Derek said, and Ray was a little taken aback by how protective he sounded. “You guys messed her up pretty well. And I don’t think you’ll get the chance to apologize, because I doubt she plans on making another appearance at the library any time soon after all that happened yesterday. So, now, Raymond, can we please move on to your girl?”
Ray sighed and chugged down another aspirin, blaming any gods in any kind of mythology ever existent for every minute he’d spent in the cold rain these past weeks. It was only a matter of time until he’d catch a cold, but he’d caught it at the worst time possible.
“She showed up yesterday, she agreed to stick around and I was supposed to take her out today,” Ray spoke nasally. “Which I won’t be able to do, because I’m dead sick and I took like a dozen dozens aspirins and drank like a barrel of tea and have been eating soup all day long and I’m just getting worse. I can barely stand. And it hasn’t even occurred to me to ask for her number and now she’ll just think I stood her up.”
He finished his rattle with a loud sneeze and he heard Derek clicking his tongue.
“Raymond. A man loves his woman every day of the month.”
Ray wrinkled his nose and shuddered at the expression. “Derek, I don’t think this applies to either men or common colds.”
His friend paused for a second. “Doesn’t it?”
Ray rolled his eyes. “No, it doesn’t. You’re hopeless. Listen, I gotta go. I’ll just take a hot shower and figure out a way to find Sky and let her know I haven’t stood her up. I can’t have come this far with her actually agreeing to give me a shot just for some stupid cold to screw everything up.”
“Kay, mate,” Derek replied. “See ya tomorrow.”
Ray blinked for a few seconds, but didn’t hang up. “What, no excruciatingly graphic details about whatever crazy date you’ve got going tonight?”
Derek was silent at first, and Ray thought he’d hung up, but then he spoke, serious enough for Ray to be concerned.
“Nah. I’m not going out tonight.”
Before Ray could get a chance to tease him about it, Derek hung up and Ray blinked at the phone a few times. What the hell had gotten into him? Was this about Cindy? Oh, God. Had Cindy broken Derek? Ray knew he should’ve written a list of instructions on how to handle Derek and glued it to his face. He chuckled a little at the idea, and then told himself this was Derek McCarter he was talking about. However traumatic had the experience with Cindy been, he’d get over it at the sight of the first pair of fine breasts.
He sneezed again and threw another tissue in the ever-growing pile of tissues now staring dramatically at him from the corner of his bedroom. He groaned and rolled to one side. He felt like crawling out of his skin, and it was only partially because of this agonizing feeling he couldn’t breathe throw his stuffed nostrils or because of his runny nose that was so red it made him look like a rain deer of Santa Claus. No, this was about Sky.
He had it all planned. He’d take her to his favorite restaurant, where he’d made reservations the second she’d been out the door yesterday. They’d have a long, nice talk and maybe he’d subtly get her to open up about herself a little. No pressure. And then they’d walk hand in hand just like that first night and he’d take her back to docks for a light picnic under the moonlight. Except this morning, when he’d woken up and was about to go to the supermarket to buy everything he needed for his miracle picnic, he realized his whole body ached and there was this dull pain just behind his eyes and he felt mildly feverish. By the time he got to his first cup of tea and the first handful of aspirins, it already got the best of him and had him tied to the bed.
He threw a pillow over his face and groaned again loudly. He was so sure this time he was losing Sky for good. No girl with a shred of decency would agree to a date with a guy who stood them up for the first one. And it was December, Ray could bet Sky would be beyond furious after having waited for God knows how long in the winter cold. Oh boy, he’d blown it, he’d blown it all and he’d blown it bad. And he was in as much pain physically as he was emotionally.
Cursing at himself and at the rain and at the Seattle climate and at the seasons and at his imbecile weak immune system, he eventually drifted off to sleep. He’d slept a lot today, but he was exhausted and he’d eaten so much soup and had drunk so much tea, he could hardly stomach anything else.
He was in that state between awake and asleep when you’re vaguely aware of your surroundings and you can slowly feel yourself falling asleep and getting to enjoy the hell out of it, when he heard a knock on the front door. He groaned and rolled to his back, rubbing his face annoyed.
Derek. Freaking Derek. I am going to break his kneecaps.
He considered sitting still and waiting until he eventually went away, because he was really not in the mood to listen to Derek rant off about some random chick or about some date his charm had gotten him at the last minute, or worse, about Cindy. But after a while, the knocking became frantic and it was clear that he wasn’t going away. Yeah, Ray told himself. He was definitely breaking Derek’s kneecaps today. And then he’d sneeze over him. Yeah, let him suffer a little, too.
Ray stood up and blew his nose once more, looking like a full-time Rudolph, ran a hand through his hair, not caring that it looked like some big bird had a nest up there, and threw a blanket over his shoulders. He made his way through the door, sighing at Derek’s insistent knocking that was started to get on his nerves.
“Jesus Christ, I’m coming, you asshole,” Ray yelled nasally, grabbing his keys from the counter and opening the door.
He blinked once. Twice. His heart stopped. Then it made a lame attempt to restart itself, barely managing to control its frantic pace.
“Oh,” was all he could mutter, and although he’d later feel like slapping himself for it, his first instinct was to smooth down his crazy hair.
Because in front of him stood none other than Sky, a furious expression on her face that Ray had fully anticipated, her arms crossed over her chest and her red lips pressed together in a tight line. There was a cute crease between her eyebrows that he would’ve likely felt the need to kiss away under different circumstances, but truth be told, he was a little scared of her right now.
He gulped helplessly.
“You stood me up,” she spoke sharply, articulate, and mad as can be.
Ray sneezed again and clutched the blanked tighter around him. “Did not.”
Sky raised an eyebrow at him, seeming to piece it together, but stood her ground nonetheless.
“I waited for you for 45 minutes. And it’s snowing.”
Ray turned around slightly to look on the window and did catch glimpse of tiny dense snowflakes dancing their way to the ground, and then faced her again, hoping he managed to look manly enough for this conversation, even though he was a walking mess and his knees were kinda bailing on him.
“Yes, umm, it seems so,” he babbled. “And I’m sorry, Sky, I’m really sorry. But I feel like crap and I woke up this morning with the worst cold of my life and I didn’t know how to let you know I couldn’t make it. So yeah, maybe I did stand you up, but I’m sorry.”
He ran out of air by the time he finished his speech, seeing as he couldn’t breathe through his nose, so as soon as the last words left his mouth, he was seized with a fit of coughing so bad he thought he’d cough his lungs out. Dear Lord, he was a wreck.
Sky let her arms drop and narrowed her eyes at him, watching him expectantly for a few seconds.
“You’re sick,” she spoke eventually, and Ray rolled his eyes.
“The theory did cross my mind,” he mocked. “Thank you for pointing it out.”
Sky glared and Ray smiled sheepishly, thanking the same gods he’d cursed for the past 12 hours that this wasn’t entirely screwed up. He should’ve known better. Sky wasn’t the girl who’d sulk and act like being stood up was just as bad as being left at the altar, or the kind of the girl who’d walk out on him and never be seen again. No, Sky was the kind of girl who showed up at his door and demanded explanations.
She stepped forward and raised her hand, and for the briefest of seconds, Ray thought she’d be the first chick to ever slap him. He mentally chuckled a little at the thought, but instead of that, Sky gently placed the back of her hand of his forehead, her eyes never leaving his.
“Okay,” she said and let her hand drop. “Back to bed.”
Ray blinked, thinking he’d heard her wrong, so he just stood there gaping like an idiot. “What?”
“Back to bed. You’re burning up and clearly you can barely stand. Go back to bed and I’ll get you a cup of tea.”
“What?” Ray repeated dumbly, unable to wrap his head around what she was suggesting.
Sky sighed and took a few steps forward, closing the door behind her.
“You’re sick,” she spoke slowly, smiling half a smile. “And I’m gonna take care of you. Since you’ve done a shitty job yourself, as far as I can see.”
Ray rolled his eyes at her remark, but he was beaming inside at the idea. What the hell was this girl even made of? His wildest dreams couldn’t have fathomed someone like this girl even existed, let alone the utterly absurd possibility that he could ever have her standing in the middle of his living room, offering to pamper him back to health. His wildest dreams had been drawn to silence the minute she’d waltzed into his life and designed a small corner of a materialized surreality.
He was watching her mesmerized and she was watching him back expectantly, challengingly, when her words fully registered and Ray groaned.
“No more tea,” he begged. “I’ve had so much tea, I think if I ever see a cup of tea again, I will go out of my freaking mind.”
Sky rolled her eyes and chuckled lightly, making Ray’s heart grow in size and capacity of withholding and digesting every raw emotion he was coming up with at her very sight.
“Not this kind of tea,” she replied. “This one’s my miracle cure for any kind of cold. Trust me, you’ll be on your feet in no time.” She noticed he was still standing there reluctantly, looking at her skeptically, like he didn’t know what to make of all this. “Get into bed, Ray of Sunshine,” she ordered eventually, and he smiled dumbly at her before wiggling his eyebrows in a boyish way that cracked her up.
However, he obeyed and turned on his heels, heading to his bedroom, when he heard Sky’s voice behind him.
Ray didn’t turn right away, his eyes widening in shock first and then closing in a silent prayer that this wasn’t what he thought it was and that he hadn’t been stupid enough to leave it in the kitchen, just like that. But then he turned slowly and resumed his earlier silent cursing as his head started spinning.
Because Sky was holding a rose, looking at it curiously.
A blue rose. Sky-ish blue, to be precise.
Oh yeah, he’d definitely been stupid enough to leave it there. He cleared his voice.
“I-It’s a rose,” he spoke lamely, and Sky glared.
“The theory did cross my mind, thanks for pointing it out, Captain Obvious,” Sky quoted his words from earlier and maybe Ray would’ve chuckled, hadn’t he been so mortified. “But why is it blue?”
Ray groaned and hid his face under the blanket he still held around his shoulders, so damn sure he was red to the tips of his ears.
“It was supposed to be for you,” he admitted, finally mustering up the courage to look her in the face.
Sky’s eyebrows rose in surprise.
“Lovely,” she said flatly. “But why is it blue, again?”
Ray sighed and rubbed his eyes with his palms.
“I painted it,” he blurted out. “I didn’t want to give you some plain flower because you deserve more. So I may have… painted its petals blue?”
Sky eyed the rose with wide eyes and walked with small steps until she stood in front of him, blinking.
“Why blue, though?” she whispered.
Ray smiled coyly. “Because of your eyes, Sky. It’s the same color as your eyes. Same color as the summer sky. Thought it would be obvious.”
She stayed silent for a few minutes, barely touching the rose with her fingertips, afraid it might turn to dust in her hands, and her lower lip was shaking slightly and she couldn’t look Ray in the eye and the bastard was so proud of himself for having been able to catch her off guard like that.
“Oh,” was all she could mutter, and Ray’s smile widened.
He covered her tiny, soft hands with his and that’s when she finally raised her gaze to meet his and once more, taking them both aback like every single time it happened because it was unlikely that they’d ever get used to it, their eyes meeting felt like an ocean staring deep into the heart of the spring forest in the morning.
“I want to make good on my promise to sweep you off your feet, so I had this great date planned,” he admitted in a small voice. “And I had the moment in which I’d give you this entirely figured out. I wanted everything to go perfectly. Guess it just didn’t.”
Sky gave a breathless laugh. “Except it did,” she whispered. “Ray, it is perfect. I don’t care whatever plans you had figured out. This is still the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me.”
Ray was smiling so wide his jaw hurt and he just drew his knuckles across her cheek, his touch light as a feather. Sky laughed dizzily and looked to the ceiling to conceal the fact that the corners of her eyes were a little teary.
“Okay, off you go, Ray of Sunshine,” she hushed him away. “Let’s get you better.”
She turned around inside the kitchen and started looking for what she needed for the tea, and Ray stood dumbstruck for a second, just looking at her.
“You already have,” he muttered under his breath, knowing she couldn’t hear him.
And he turned around his heels and walked to his bedroom, thinking about how he indeed intended to make good on his promise to make her fall in love with him. But with every step he took her closer to that, every little thing that led him to that conclusion, he was the one that feel deeper and deeper and hopelessly in love with her.