Lost & Found

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The Flirtation

She was awake by seven, a completely normal response to having been drunk the night before. This is what always happened when she fell asleep tipsy: she woke up wanting to be completely productive. Sometimes she cleaned her room, sometimes she got ahead on her homework, but this morning, she felt like exercising, so she pulled on running shorts and a loose t-shirt and tied the laces on her trainers before heading out for a jog around the sidewalks that wound through the apartment complex.

In general, Cassie enjoyed jogging. There was something so revitalizing about breathing in fresh air and the time alone gave her a chance to clear her head, a task which was in greet need after the events of the previous day.

It still amazed her that someone she’d known for less than twenty-four hours could spend so much time resonating in her thoughts. Despite her cool response to Tyler’s flirtation on the balcony the previous night, every nerve end in her body had wanted to kiss him. The only thing that had stopped her, beside not wanting to upset Jessamine, was that she really wasn’t bold enough to lean forward and plant her lips on his and for once in her life, she was glad that she was more reserved.

After returning to the party, she had spent the rest of the time they’d remained there, ensuring she was always as far away from Tyler as possible, not realizing that Tyler was doing his best not to keep glancing in her direction.

Cassie had managed to avoid him for a good two hours before Jessamine asked if she wanted to leave and she’d gladly said yes, making sure Jessamine was the one walking next to her brother on the way back to their own apartment. She’d bid the siblings goodnight almost as soon as they’d arrived back home and locked herself in her room, her heart beating almost erratically.

It had taken twice as long as usual to fall asleep last night because all she could think about was that Tyler was just down the hall, sleeping in the couch in the common area, and wondered if he had any idea that she would fall asleep with him on her mind.

He hadn’t been on the couch when she left for her run, but she didn’t think much of it, figuring he probably went to claim part of his sister’s bed, which was decidedly more comfortable. She paused on the sidewalk that curved next to the community pool, mesmerized by a figure soaring effortlessly beneath the water. She watched him glide and kick every now and then and it wasn’t until he came up for air that she realized it was Tyler. Mortified and not wanting him to know that she had been staring at him, once again, she turned away to finish her jog before he noticed, but was stopped short when he called out her name.

Freezing, she turned back to face him placing her hands on her hips to try and catch her breath, an effort which proved useless when her sights landed on Tyler pushing himself upwards and over the edge of the pool. His biceps flexed as he put his weight on his hands to lift himself up before swinging his leg over the edge and exiting the water. The weight of the water caused his bright red swim trunks to sag low on his hips, allowing his washboard like abdominal muscles to be more defined and revealing a line of script inked at his hip which read ‘so far away’. Combine that with the fact that he was soaking wet and Cassie’s mouth went completely dry.

Lowering his head, he shook the water from his hair before bringing one hand upwards to comb his fingers roughly through his wet curls, leaving them falling messily across his forehead as he came to a stop to her front, thinking she looked really cute, panting lightly, her short, curly ponytail swinging from the crown of her head.

“You’re up early,” he said, trying not to look too smug at the sight of her turning bright red because he was half naked and wet. Competitive swimming had kept him in shape over the years, the miles worth of laps he had to do during training sessions giving him toned muscles. Tyler knew better than anyone that his body was nice to look at, but he always enjoyed seeing that appreciation in others.

Forcing herself not to gape, she averted her gaze from his abdominal region and up to his eyes, miffed to find them twinkling with wicked delight. “I didn’t sleep much last night, so I figured I’d try to do something productive. How about you?”

Part of him wanted to ask whether her lack of sleep had anything to do with him, but he decided not to put her on the spot and answered truthfully. “I slept like a baby.”

“Alcohol will do that to you,” she teased, the corners of her lips quirking upwards into a small smile.

He felt his body warm at the sight, so he smiled widely as he reached back to grab a towel that was hanging over the back of a nearby pool chair. “I didn’t actually get drunk last night. Old habits, I guess. It’s not fun to wake up for six am swim practice when you’re hungover.”

“Speaking of which, aren’t you supposed to be on vacation?” She crossed her arms over her chest and did her best not to watch the way his muscles tensed and flexed as he began to dry off his hair.

“I think the water calls to me,” he laughed lightly when his hair had gone from wet to damp. “I just can’t seem to stay away.”

It was amazing how accurately that sentence seemed to describe their current predicament. As soon as the words left his mouth, Tyler knew she was thinking the same thing. He could tell by the way her eyes flashed with memories of the previous day and her lips pressed together as though she was trying not to smile.

“I know the feeling,” she said softly, unable to believe those words were escaping her lips, even as it was happening. The smirk that his lips kinked into was a clear indication that he understood her meaning, so she quickly changed the subject, completely flustered. “I mean, that’s how I feel about running. And I should probably get back to doing that, so I’m gonna go.”

“Mhmm,” he hummed, not at all convinced, but he didn’t push the issue. Her cheeks were bright red as she turned away to continue her jog, only to be stopped when he placed a hand on her shoulder and caused her to freeze. “Hey, Cass, wait a minute.”

He tossed the towel over his shoulder and crossed his arms over his chest as she turned to face him once more, squinting as the sunlight became more prominent. “I don’t want things to be weird between us.”

“Why would things be weird between us?” She wasn’t purposely trying to act as though she had no idea what he was talking about, but she didn’t want to have this conversation right now. It wasn’t the right time. Though, if she was being honest, she wasn’t sure there would ever be a right time.

He knew she felt it too, she had to, there was no way to pretend the tension between them didn’t exist, but she was obviously avoiding the subject for a reason, so he decided to respect that decision. Perhaps it was for the best, anyway. It wasn’t as though anything could actually happen between them. He had made a promise to his sister and he intended to keep it.

“No reason,” he shrugged, sticking his hands into the pockets of his swim trunks, which caused them to drop dangerously low.

She appreciated that he wasn’t pushing a conversation, so she shot him a close lipped smile and nodded down the sidewalk to silently indicate that she was going to finish her run before lifting one hand in a wave and jogging away.

Staring after her, he let out a deep sigh, not at all enjoying keeping this particular promise.

Cassie managed to avoid Tyler for the rest of the day. Using the fact that she had a huge project due for her computer programming class in a couple weeks, she zoomed out of the apartment after a quick shower, shouting a quick goodbye to Jessamine, who was eating cereal in the common area while Tyler lay sprawled out on the floor. Keeping her eyes focused on her roommate, Cassie offered her explanation and smile and then left as quickly as possible to spend the rest of the day on campus. She actually did get a lot done for her project and satisfied her hunger by getting food from one of the grab and go places at the college and when she arrived back at the apartment in the evening, the Copeland siblings were nowhere in sight.

While Cassie had spent her day staying as far away from Tyler as possible, Tyler had spent his day getting closer to his sister. He had missed her loads the weeks she hadn’t been home and it was nice to spend time with her again. Jessamine showed her little brother around campus and told him how much she loved her classes and how much she was learning and how every day was like an adventure. Then they walked into the nearby city to get lunch and spent the remainder of the afternoon roaming the streets and window shopping. Tyler kept his sister updated on all of the goings on at home and how their parents and aunts and uncles were doing. They talked about how Jamie, the lead singer’s son, who was kicking ass as the assistant to a prominent government official and how Kira, the lead guitarist’s daughter, was now practically running the youth center where she’d started volunteering after returning from volunteering overseas and how Brody, one of the drummer’s twins, was loving art school and one of his paintings was going to be featured in an exhibit soon and how Piper, the other twin, was dominating the music conservatory she’d gotten admission to and Caroline, Jamie’s little sister, was still figuring out what she wanted, but still playing soccer on the side and Lucy, the lead guitarist’s younger daughter, was one of the most important people at the school paper and how amazing it was that all of them seemed to be doing exactly what they were meant to be doing.

When their legs were finally ready to give out, they picked up Chinese food from in town and headed home, where they found Cassie stretched out on the couch, her nose in a tattered copy of To Kill A Mockingbird.

“Hey,” she smiled and sat up as the siblings entered, her gaze flicking to Tyler just long enough for her temperature to rise before settling on her roommate. “Did you guys have a good day?”

“Yeah,” Jessamine grinned, holding up the plastic bag full of takeout she was carrying. “You hungry? I got your usual.”

The rumbling in Cassie’s stomach confirmed Jessamine’s suspicions and Cassie grinned sheepishly. “Yeah, thanks.”

“Did Jessa show you around?” Cassie asked Tyler, attempting to be friendly, which was difficult because she kept having flashbacks to him emerging from the pool. “How’d you like it?”

He took in her standard lounging at home uniform of yoga pants and a t-shirt and smiled widely. “Beautiful…the campus, I mean.”

Wondering why she thought she’d be able to have a conversation with him without feeling flustered, she turned her attention back to Jessamine, who was busy unpacking the takeout boxes on the kitchen table. Cassie walked over to help and they slid into chairs around the table, Tyler with his lo mein, Jessamine with her fried rice, and Cassie with her cashew chicken.

“So, Cass,” Tyler said once they were a few bites in. “I’m leaving tomorrow. Are you gonna miss me?”

It was a strange thought, that she would miss someone that she’d known for such a short amount of time, but if she denied it, she would be lying. Meeting Tyler was like seeing a shooting star; momentary and exhilarating and beautiful and once he was gone, he would still linger in her mind.

The words came out teasing and flirtatious, but the truth was that he was dying to know the answer. Mostly because he knew that he’d think about her quite a bit once he was home.

“It’s not like this is the last time you’re gonna see each other ever,” Jessamine said through a mouthful of rice before Cassie could speak. “Cassie’s gonna coming home with me next weekend for Piper’s concert and family dinner.”

Cassie’s eyes lit with recollection of the conversation she’d had with Jessamine a few weeks prior. Piper was the daughter of the band’s drummer, and as part of her musical training, she was playing a concert in her hometown with some other members of her class, which meant the entire family was coming home for the weekend. Family dinner, a band family tradition which had taken place on Sunday evenings every month since the band members decided to lay down some roots, had been moved to Saturday after the concert since everyone was going to be around anyway and then the kids who had to go back to school could still attend. Jessamine had figured it would be a perfect time to introduce one of her best friends to all of the people she loved dearly.

“Oh,” Tyler twirled his noodles around his fork, trying not to sound too excited at the thought of getting to see Cassie again. “I forgot about that.”

“Really?” Jessamine’s eyebrows shot up, her tone teasing. “I’m surprised you could forget about something involving Piper.” She directed her next statement at Cassie. “He used to have such a massive crush on her, it was adorable.”

“It was also like three years ago,” Tyler replied, seething through his teeth and wondering why he didn’t want Cassie to know about his since resolved feelings for Piper. “I’m over it.”

Cassie lifted the corners of her lips into a small smile as she stabbed a piece of chicken, disliking the fact that she felt a pang of jealously at this new knowledge. She had no claim over Tyler. They hardly even knew each other. But finding him attractive wasn’t enough reason for her to feel jealous at the thought of him ever having feelings for another girl. Though she did have to admit she was also a bit intrigued to meet Piper and see what kind of girl it was that Tyler had developed feelings for previously.

Taking pity on her brother, Jessamine veered the conversation in a new direction for the remainder of the meal and after their takeout boxes were all thrown away, they decided that Friday night’s activities had been enough excitement for the weekend and staying in and watching a movie sounded amazing.

Jessamine sat between Cassie and Tyler on the couch, a positioning that both of them appreciated and all seemed well until Jessamine fell asleep halfway through The Princess Bride, leaning her head on her brother’s shoulder. Cassie kept her gaze laser focused on the television screen, but she was hyperaware of Tyler’s presence and she wondered if he felt the same way. He did.

When the movie ended, she pushed herself off the couch to remove the DVD and shut off the television and when she turned around, Tyler had hauled a sleeping Jessamine up into his arms and was preparing to carry her to her room. Cassie followed him silently down the hallway and watched from her own open doorway as he placed Jessamine on her bed. She turned to go to sleep herself when Tyler stepped back into the hallway and shut the door behind him, but was stopped when she heard his voice whisper her name.

“Yeah?” she replied quietly, leaning against the door frame and crossing her arms over her chest.

He had a lot he wanted to say. He’d been thinking about it all day, ever since he saw her by the pool that morning, thinking about how he didn’t want to leave things so unresolved. The entire time he had been with his sister, he had found himself zoning out as he constructed his speech in his head. Perhaps now, in the dimly lit apartment hallway, wasn’t the best time to say it, but he didn’t know if he’d be alone with Cassie again, so he figured he’d just go for it.

Chewing on his lower lip, he tilted his head to the side and stuffed his fingers into the pockets of his jeans and stared at her thoughtfully for a moment before he began. “We don’t really know each other that well, so you might not know that I’m the kind of guy who always goes after the things I want. That applies to everything: school, swimming, girls…”

He paused and she wondered if she fell into the ‘girls’ category. It was certainly and intriguing and thrilling thought: that Tyler wanted her. She had come to realize that flirting for him was as natural as breathing, so when he twinkled his eyes at her and made remarks that sent her heart racing, she had assumed that was just how he was with everyone and it didn’t necessarily mean he felt anything, but just that he enjoyed being flirtatious.

Her question was answered when he continued. “But I promised my sister I would stay away from you.”

“Why?” Cassie’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. This was news to her; the whole idea that Jessamine and Tyler had discussed her when she wasn’t around.

“Because she thinks that if anything ever happened between us, I would break your heart,” he replied honestly, knowing exactly the reason his sister sought to protect her roommate.

Cassie tilted her head to the side, amazed that she was able to keep her gaze steadily connected to his as she spoke. “Would you?”

“I don’t know,” he admitted. He didn’t add that his track record with relationships so far wasn’t exactly stellar. Though he wasn’t sure one girlfriend technically counted as a record anyway.

“Tyler.” The way she said his name was so soft, so sweet, that he almost asked her to repeat it. “In order for you to break my heart, I’d have to give it to you first.”

“That’s a good point,” he replied, the corners of his lips lifting into a small smile, a terrifying part of him wanting her to do just that.

She lifted one shoulder in a shrug and dropped it down again, feeling exhausted from the day’s events. “Why are you telling me this?”

Seeing as this was the first time Cassie was hearing about Jessamine’s warning, she gathered it wasn’t knowledge that Jessamine wanted her to have.

He honestly wasn’t sure how to answer that, besides admitting that he’d never been particularly good at keeping his feelings bottled up. Rocking back and forth on his sock covered toes, he thought for a moment. “Because I don’t like playing games, so I just wanted to tell you that staying away from you is going to be difficult for me because I feel something for you, Cassie. I don’t really know what it is, but it’s there and if I hadn’t made a promise to my sister, I would ask if I could kiss you right now.”

It wasn’t the first time Tyler had left her speechless and she was entirely sure it wouldn’t be the last. She had no idea how she was supposed to respond, so she stared at him wide eyed and all that came out was, “Oh.”

Internally, Tyler was cursing himself because he realized he probably just scared the shit out of her. His plan had always been to confess that he felt something, but he hadn’t meant for it to come out quite so intensely and now she looked as though she might pass out. So he inhaled deeply to calm his nerves and resisted the urge to reach out and brush back a stray dark chocolate curl from her forehead. “Goodnight, Cass.”

Turning, he made his way to the common room to sleep on the couch, leaving Cassie standing in her open doorway, staring at the spot where he had once been standing.

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