I wake up in a daze, struggling to absorb the events of last night. I shut my eyes and thought it through: dance, Scarlett, Vinh, then Silas. Oh, Silas. The thought of him shoots clouds of euphoria around my chest, making me smile as I open my eyes. I turn over to face my desk, only to find a tall boy slump on my desk chair, his mouth slack and his head rolled back so that he slept facing the ceiling.
“Mỹ ơi! Thức dậy chưa?” I hear my mom yell from in the bathroom. Silas and I both jolt up, staring at each other wide eyed.
We hear her approaching my door from the hall and I scurry to get him to hide in my closet before I hear her turn the knob and open the door. My mother looks surprised to see me so awake, but because she was in a rush, she just tells me that she would not be able to come home to cook dinner on time tonight, and then hands me a twenty.
I follow her downstairs, wait for her to close the door behind her, before I run back up the stairs to my room. Upon entering, I find a large lump under my blanket on my bed. I raise an eyebrow as I pull the blanket off him to find Silas grinning, with my pink and white polka dot bra on his head as if it were a hat. I yelp and yank it from his head to toss it back in my closet.
“You can’t shove me in your closet and not expect me to take particular interest in your delicates!” He’s still laughing and I have to slap his arm to keep my nerves down. Finally, he gathers himself together and apologizes, “Sorry. I meant to leave as soon as you fell asleep, but…”
“But what?” I sit down on the desk chair and face him. He blushes.
“You looked really cute asleep, and before I knew it I was knocked out too.” His eyes hide behind his thick lashes, and his shy boyish behavior leaves me breathless. His smile was gentle and I don’t know why, but there was a sudden flash of anger in his eyes before he gets up to pull me into an embrace.
“Thank you,” he whispers into my ear, “for telling me about that last night. I can tell it was hard.” He pulls away just enough to rest his forehead on mine, his eyes shut tight as he continues, “I wish I could find a way to take those awful memories from your head.”
I nod, realizing that neither of us have brushed our teeth this morning.
I give him a new spare toothbrush to brush his teeth with while I do the same with mine. Standing over one sink, we grin at each other as we do our business, foaming up our lips.
Once we were done, I walk off, but he grabs my wrist to turn me around and fall into his arms. With one hand on my back and the other reaching up to my face, he slowly brushes off an eyelash on my cheek, which remains on his thumb.
“Make a wish,” he almost whispers as his eyes explore my face, finally falling onto my lips.
I stare at him, then at the lash. I wish I knew what this feeling is. I blow the lash out of sight.
I can’t understand what I am feeling right now. Yes, Silas has become quite a friend this past week, but it feels like there’s more. I can’t decide which direction to see in this level of passion. I want to believe that this is just his macho protective side showing up, as I have never had to deal with such things in the absence of my father. It made sense for him to come to a damsel in distress to save the day and gain recognition. After all, isn’t that what it’s all about?
But in these little moments, when he cradles my head, when his lips lure me just inches away, when he looks at me like I’m the only one in the world he wants to look at, I lose feeling in my knees. My heart melts for him and I can’t help but think of him all the time. No one in this world has ever made me open up about myself this much, not Vinh, not Natasha when I was around her, and not even my own mother.
But it could all just be in my head.
All the butterflies and the gut wrenching longing and the thoughts of walking side by side along the shores of the ocean…
It could really all just be in my head, and maybe all this that he’s done for me, all the time that he’s spent with me, all the thoughts he’s shared with me… Maybe they’re just things he would sincerely share with a friend, someone he may care about, but not what I might be hoping for.
The human mind is unreliable. His tender embrace and vow to protection could easily just be a friendly hug and a promise to help out. Anyone who feels what I feel would see it under a smoke screen, diverting my own experiences into something more genuine than it really is.
He went home after receiving a text from his parents. Looking nervous, he exited through the front door and I stood there, staring at the closed door, silently wishing he stayed.
I spent the whole morning cleaning the house here and there. I reorganized our dvd collection as well as the few cassette tapes we still keep out even though we threw out our VCR almost a decade ago. I walked across the street and bought a few items to make some chicken carbonara for lunch. Just as I get back home, I see Damon at my front step, trying to knock on the door.
“Hey, Damon,” I greet him as I walk up the steps. He turns back to me and smiles.
“Hi, Tammy. Whatchu up to?” He follows me in and promptly closes the screen door behind him.
“Well,” I say as I place the large bag of groceries on the corner counter before I start taking things out, “I don’t have anything planned for the day, but I am about to make lunch if you want to join me.”
“Sure, let me just wash my hands and we’re good to go.”
I look up at him, surprised that he’s offering to cook. I suppose he feels bad for not coming to the dance, but I’ve shown him through tone and speech that I don’t blame him.
Together, we danced around the kitchen to put together a decent dish. With all the windows open to air out the smells, we tried to keep our volume down, but his hideous dance moves just bring the loudest of laughs from me.
As I finish up on the sauce, I yell over to Damon, who is now dancing with his eyes closed, “Hey, loser! Stop gyrating and pass me the noodles!” I laugh as he continues his awkward dance and hands me the bowl of cooked noodles.
I mix in the pasta into the sauce, which starts to thicken rapidly. I turn the heat down and feel Damon’s body behind me. “Smells good!” I reach for the tasting spoon, dip it into the sauce dampened noodles, and raise it over my shoulder for him to taste.
I turn to see that he was waiting for me to look before he slowly cleans the spoon with his full lips. Gazing down at mine, he licks his lips and the impact of it leaves me astonished. I suddenly drop the spoon I thought I had held so tightly. He bends down to pick it up and before he turns around to drop it in the sink, he sends a wink my way and I feel my heart pounding wildly in my chest.
When all the kitchen cooking and cleaning was done, he and I sat in the living room with our bowls of pasta in front of us. I pull the tabletop up and it extends upward, making creaking sounds as it does. With our bowls just below chest level, I grab the tv remote and start setting up some lunch entertainment.
“So I know I’ve said it, but I’m sorry,” he cowered, “my uncle is still in the hospital. My dad’s with him now, so the first thing I did after leaving was coming here.”
“Why?” I ask, looking into his tired eyes.
“What do you mean? I stood you up. I had to see you.” There was a clear apologetic look on his face and his eyebrows drooped down cartoonishly at their ends.
“Damon, you were at that hospital all night. You need rest. Besides, I’m kind of glad last night went the way it did…”
He gives me a puzzled look, but shakes it off. “Maybe I needed to see you more than I needed the rest.”
As I finish my food, I look over to his to see that he was slowly picking at it, eating slowly and chewing lazily. “Why don’t we,” I start to suggest, “leave the food alone.” I stand up and tug at his arm to let him lie on the couch we just ate on. Before his head reaches the couch leather, I tuck a pillow in under his neck. He smiles at me gratefully.
By the time he woke up, I was already done with all my homework and all the house cleaning. He lifted his head to see me reading my romance novel. I was in my pair of pajama shorts and loose t-shirt, which I’ve stretched over my legs as they bend against my torso, curling my body into a ball of Tammy.
“Did you have a good nap?” I don’t look up from my book. I am currently at a very hot and heavy scene and I don’t want my bright red face to give anything away.
“Yeah,” he says as he picks up his phone to check the time, then looks over to me again to take a closer peek at the book cover. “You like those books? The ones with Fabio and the damsel in distress?” He makes his voice sound breathy and dramatic.
“Hey, sometimes I like the cheesy romantic stuff. It gives me hope.”
“Hope for what?”
“Hope for me to one day become a princess and ride off into the sunset with my charming prince.” I jokingly press the open book onto my chest and gaze up at the ceiling, as if reliving an age old fantasy.
His lips purse and he grabs his phone from the table to start rapidly texting.
I raise an eyebrow at him, “Care to share with the class, Henderson?”
His phone rings for a notification and his face brightens. He shoots up and offers her a hand. “I want to show you something.”
“What? Right now?”
“Do you have anything better to do?”
I look down at my super comfy clothes and frown, “Well maybe I was planning to count the tiles in the bathroom.”
“Come on, Tammy. Please?”
I groan in response and he grins, knowing that he won.
It’s the weekend! I want to stay in my pajamas.
A few minutes later, we are in his car, headed towards the beach. I live a mere 20 minutes from the shores, but I never go. It’s kind of like a dishwasher in my house: A luxury I don’t need.
To my surprise, we don’t park at one of the public parking lots, but instead approach an isolated beach house with a full garden.
“Come on, let’s get in the sand,” he suggests enthusiastically, taking my hand in his. He keeps glancing back every few seconds, as if to make sure that I was still there.
As we reach the wet sands, our toes inches away from the approaching water, the sun is starting to set, just above the horizon. We watch as the sun makes its way under the blanket of sea.
“Hey, Tammy?” He doesn’t look away from the half of the orange glowing ball being tucked into the reflecting bed of water.
“Why did you let Natasha treat you like that?” His question sends painful memories in my mind, but I hold back the discomfort in my face.
Quietly, I start to whisper so low that the ocean breeze renders me mute. Damon pulls me closer to him, his hand on my lower back, my chest against his, his eyes in mine.
I try to answer his question again, and this time, he focuses on my lips as I speak, “I hurt her just as much as she hurt me. It’s only fair we both get to cope in our own ways.”
“She doesn’t sound like she’s coping. More like bullying everyone in sight,” he spits under his breath, knowing I’d hear him. “And what do you mean you hurt her? What happened?”
“I never told her the true reason why I left her when I did. It was just too difficult to, so I opted to tell her the reasons she feared of hearing. I made her feel less than what she was, and I knew it was wrong, but it was all I could come up with?”
I knew he was going to dig deeper but I stare into his eyes, shaking my head with a sad smile.
“So why are we here,” I ask as the wind blows my long strands of hair onto my face. With a chuckle, he swiftly removes them to hold my face and look into my eyes again, but this time, we’re much closer. I couldn’t look away even if I tried. With the back of his fingers, he caresses my cheek and I can’t help but lean into his touch.
No. I freeze. This can’t be what friends do.
I pull back and catch the look of disappointment in his eyes. Quickly straightening himself, he responds, “I wanted to make it up to you for leaving you hanging last night.”
“I wasn’t alone, you know,” I say as we start walking back toward the house. “I had Vinh and Silas with me.”
I watch as his jaw clenches and hot air shoots out his flared nostrils. He doesn’t say anything, but I know exactly why he was reacting this way. Still gonna deny it, though.
As we walk, I could feel our hands brush against each other with every step. Suddenly, but very subtly, he runs his fingers down my palm and intertwine them with mine. I look at our tangled fingers and then at his unashamed grin.
We continue to walk toward the seemingly empty home and I point out, “This could be a scene straight out of the intro to a horror movie.” I laugh, but he gives me a concerned look.
“Do you feel safe with me?”
I could feel his grip on my hand loosen in discouragement and I squeeze to reassure him, “I feel safest with you.”
Like a good friend. Like having a brother, or a father, or a guard. For the love of god, add something to that sentence before this becomes a scene from a cheesy romance novel!
I swallow hard, but I can’t find the will to say anything more to rectify what I had just uttered. I couldn’t possibly fix what I said, because it was the truth, the best version of how I felt around him. He made me feel safe and he gave me hope for happy endings.
As his eyes soften in their gaze into mine, a series of twinkling lights suddenly illuminate our path in the home’s garden toward a brightly lit gazebo. Red and pink roses cover the grounds and trees with rose-like flowers tower over them to add effect. I turn to him with a look of awe.
“How did you set all this up?” My eyes dance around on the little lights that seemed to heighten this simple garden into something more extraordinary.
“I’ve got a friend whose parents recently bought this place. They’re out of town and asked me to watch over the place.”
He shyly tugs at my hand. I follow him to the gazebo, where he plugs his phone into a stereo. Turning the volume up to a safe level, he turns back to me, bows, and offers me his hand, “May I have this dance?”
I smile, exhaling out of my nose in amusement. I take his hand and he straightens up again. Gently leading me into our first steps together, we become instantly in sync with the music.
Just as Adele starts her lines in Make You Feel My Love, I become entranced in his eyes. He places my hand, which he had been comfortably holding in his, around the back of his neck. He proceeds to join his hands around my back, allowing his face to come closer to mine.
I couldn’t think. Even when I blink, I have the image of his loving eyes in my mind. I am surrounded by him and for the very first time, that was okay, because his presence brought me a peace I desperately yearned. The gentle piano melodies swirl around the air, whispering in my ear to let it happen, to let him kiss me. And when he does, I felt like all in my world was well. His lips press against mine softly, and as he pulled back slightly to take in my reaction, I lift myself onto my toes to him once more.
We kiss and kiss until the song reaches its end and we found ourselves in a tangled mess. His hand combed halfway through my hair and rested on the back of my head, cradling me from the kiss. His other was gently pressed on my back. My hands were both grabbing at his hair, gripping tightly from such an intense exchange. I feel euphoric as we rest our foreheads against each other to catch our breaths.
We laugh together in huffs of silent air, and he pulls me into an embrace, with my head resting on his hard chest. I press my ear against him to hear a loud and fast heartbeat. I smile, knowing that he must be this way because me.
Just then, my phone rings and we let each other go for me to reach into my pocket.
“Hey Tam, I’m at your place, where are you?” Vinh sounds out of breath, but I could also hear him laughing with someone in the background.
“I’m not home, why? What is it?”
“We need to talk about Scarlett.”
I give Damon an apologetic look. He smiles in understanding.
Before I knew it, we were already in the car and headed home. With the ocean breeze so therapeutic, we had all the windows down. Strong winds hit my face, leaving my hair a complete bird’s nest. I turn to him with a bewildered look on my face, making him laugh so loud that several people in adjacent cars at the stoplight turned to stare at him.
That was when I saw him. It wasn’t exactly clear, but I knew it was Silas, sitting in the backseat of an adjacent car. He had been watching us, and I suddenly felt guilty.
I did nothing wrong, I tell myself, but it doesn’t help.
He’s hurt and it’s all my fault.
I watch as his eyes start to water and he stares unblinkingly at me, obviously in pain. That was when I realized what I had done today.
I kissed Damon. Damon who had been so sweet to me, so protective and kind. I felt blinded and entranced in his presence, but hadn’t I had those same moments with Silas? I lower my eyes in sadness, holding back my frustration for a rainy day.
As we drove off, I watch as Silas’s dejected eyes follow me longingly and I can’t help but do the same for him.