His body clock woke him naturally at six in the morning, but because it was still dark out and the apartment was silent, he stayed horizontal on the couch, staring at the rotation of the ceiling fan as he ran through the events of the previous night.
In retrospect, spilling his guts had probably been a bad idea. Tyler had never had much of a brain to mouth filter, but after making the promise to his sister, he’d had to develop one around Cassie. Honestly, he was surprised he’d lasted as long as he did without telling her how much he wanted to taste her lips.
Sighing, he scratched his fingers over his bare stomach, thinking it was probably a good thing he was leaving today. He would need an entire week away to mentally and emotionally prepare for Cassie staying at his house over the weekend.
He wasn’t sure how long he lay there, staring at the ceiling, but once a bit more natural light came flowing through the windows, he heard a noise coming from down the hallway and sat up straight, holding his breath until Cassie appeared, wearing a college sweatshirt over a pair of plaid sleep shorts.
She froze next to the couch, not expecting him to be awake, which, now that she thought about it, was a pretty stupid assumption. Of course Tyler, the swimmer who woke at the crack of dawn six days a week for training, would be awake and she wouldn’t be able to quietly make herself a cup of tea and sneak back to her room.
“Hey,” she said quietly, the speech he’d given her replaying in her mind as it had been the entirety of the night. Although she knew he was probably regretting being so honest, she actually appreciated it greatly that he knew exactly how he felt and wasn’t afraid to say it and she hoped that maybe someday, she could return the favor.
“Hey,” he replied cautiously. The fact that she had greeted him first meant she wasn’t avoiding him completely. Taking that as a good sign, he swung his legs over the side of the couch and reached out to grab the jeans he’d been wearing the night before. As he did at home, he had been sleeping in his just his boxers and generally speaking, he had no problem being almost naked in front of people, but he didn’t want to make Cassie uncomfortable and drive her away. He stood from the couch to tug the jeans over his hips and zip them up before finding his favorite gray hoodie and zipping it over his bare chest before turning to face her, finding that she’d moved from the hallway and was plugging in the kettle in the kitchen.
“Do you want tea or coffee or anything?” she asked, standing on her tip toes to remove a mug and a box of tea bags from the cabinet.
Tyler had stopped drinking caffeinated beverages years ago and ironically, he found himself having more energy, he shook his head as he walked around the couch. “I’m good, thanks.”
“I meant to ask you,” she said, keeping her gaze focused on the task of choosing a tea bag and replacing the box in the cabinet. “What’s your tattoo mean?”
Unconsciously, Tyler’s hand went to the hip where his skin was inked and he patted it lightly before crossing his arms over his chest as he leaned on the counter and watched her. “They’re lyrics.”
“From one of your dad’s band’s songs,” she replied, shooting him a smile over her shoulder as she poured hot water into her mug, continuing when he lifted one eyebrow in surprise. “I’m a fan. But why that song and that lyric?”
If he was being honest, he had never really thought that tattoos necessarily had to mean anything, but he supposed he could confess that this one did. “I guess because it’s one that my dad wrote. One of his really early ones, you know, so it means a lot to him and he means a lot to me.”
Cassie almost cooed as she turned off the kettle and began to dunk her tea bag up and down and turned to face him. “That’s sweet.”
“I use it to motivate me in other ways, too,” he admitted, wondering why he felt so comfortable bearing his soul to someone who was practically a stranger. “It’s kind of a reminder to always set new goals for myself and never stop working hard. That’s not at all what the song is about, though.”
“I know,” her lips curved into a smile over the side of the mug as she stepped forward to lean against the counter across from him. “But that doesn’t mean that the lyrics can’t mean something to different to everybody.”
A laugh tumbled out from between his lips, his eyes crinkling adorably and she felt a sense of pride that she had been the one to make that happen. He shook his head, his eyes twinkling. “So wise.”
She matched his chuckle, glad that things between them weren’t as tense as they had the potential to be, but was kept from saying anything when Jessamine appeared, sleep in her eyes and her phone in her hand.
“Ty,” she said, yawning. “Dad wants to know when you’re heading home.”
Tyler frowned as he pushed himself off the counter and turned towards the couch to find the phone that he’d slept with against his chest. “Why didn’t he just ask me?”
“Probably because he knows you don’t respond,” Jessamine shrugged, walking around the counter and plugging in the kettle again.
While checking his phone to see if his father had called or texted, Tyler’s background flashed onto the screen, and Cassie tilted her head to the side in interest at the picture of him and a brunette with striking green eyes making faces at the camera.
“Is that your girlfriend?” she asked, despite the fact that logically, it didn’t make sense for him to be in a relationship, especially given what he’d said to her the night before.
Jessamine snorted as she added water to her instant coffee powder. “Ty doesn’t do girlfriends. If you’re talking about his phone background, that’s Lucy.”
“Lucy…,” Cassie rolled the name around in her mouth, her eyes lighting when she realized why it sounded familiar. “Right, she’s one of the band kids.”
“Yeah,” Jessamine nodded, finding a spoon to stir with and setting it on the counter before holding out her crossed fingers. “Uncle Dan, the guitarist’s, younger daughter. She and Ty are like this.”
Tyler was smiling widely at the mention of Lucy when Cassie’s gaze found him again and he shrugged. “She’s my best friend.”
Cassie felt a twinge of envy at the amount of family support Jessamine and Tyler had, and dropped her gaze to her tea cup, an action Tyler misinterpreted as jealousy for an entirely different reason and set out to clarify what he meant.
“And when I say friends, I mean just friends,” Tyler assured Cassie, which was entirely unnecessary. “People always think we’re a couple, but all the love I have for her is strictly platonic.”
“Oh,” Cassie blinked, setting down her mug as she realized why he was explaining. “I didn’t think…it’s just cool that you guys are so surrounded by family and people who love you unconditionally and you can always talk to about anything.” Her voice became softer as she continued. “I’m an only child and my parents got divorced when I was six and I spent the rest of my childhood splitting my time between two houses or sitting in tense rooms with two people who couldn’t stand the sight of each other and it was pretty lonely.”
She hadn’t meant for their morning tea conversation to turn into a heart to heart, it had all just sort of come out. Over the course of the past two days, as she’d watched Jessamine and Tyler talk about the people in their lives, she’d watched their eyes absolutely flood with love and adoration and she’d wondered what it was like to feel that way about someone.
“Well, Cass,” Jessamine said softly, reaching out to rub her friend’s back comfortingly. “That’s why you’re coming home with me next weekend. We can be your family.”
Tyler had no idea what to say, but he did know that hugs could make anything better, so he shoved his phone into the front pocket of his jeans and walked around the counter, wrapping his arms around Cassie’s shoulders and pulling her into an embrace before he spent too much time thinking about his actions.
She had never been a particularly affectionate person, which was why her first instinct was to stiffen against his torso, but then he squeezed her close and started rubbing her back, resting his chin atop her head, and she couldn’t help but melt. She encircled his torso with her arms to hug him back, closing her eyes and enjoying the warmth of his body and the feeling of his strong arms around her and that comforting cedar and chlorine scent.
They had hugged once before, in greeting the first time they met, but that hug had been quick and friendly and innocent. Although this particular embrace was supposed to be much the same, Tyler couldn’t help but feel moved by having her in his arms; couldn’t help but feel like they fit perfectly together.
Their hug came to an end when Jessamine coughed from a few feet away, not entirely sure she was liking what she was seeing. Separately, Jessamine adored both her brother and her roommate, but together…well, them being friends wouldn’t be such a bad thing, but the fact that Tyler was practically purring as he trailed his hand up and down Cassie’s back was far from purely friendly.
“Right,” Tyler cleared his throat as he dropped his arms, feeling a bit cold as he took a step backwards. “Well, I’m gonna go take a shower and then head out cause I don’t wanna get home too late. I still have to be up early tomorrow.”
Cassie nodded, caught between being left speechless and being afraid that her voice would come out high pitched and cracked if she tried, her eyes wide as he grabbed his duffel bag from the common room floor and disappeared down the hallway.
“So…,” Jessamine said to pull her roommate out of her trance. “Are you alright?”
Blinking rapidly, Cassie turned her attention back to her friend and shot her a small smile. “Yeah, I’m fine, I just a little emotional.”
Jessamine supposed she couldn’t be too upset that there seemed to be something going on between Cassie and Tyler. Perhaps Cassie just needed some support and Tyler was always willing to hug it out, so it kind of worked out perfectly. Jessamine reached out to squeeze Cassie’s shoulder. “I meant what I said. We’ll all be there for you if you ever need us. Family isn’t just blood, you know.”
“I know,” Cassie whispered. “Thanks. I should probably go shower too.”
Thirty minutes later, they were standing in awkward silence in the common room. Tyler had taken the coldest shower of his life, trying to wash away the feeling of holding Cassie in his arms and Cassie had once again dragged her fingers up and down her legs and torso under the warm streams, pretending they were the hands of someone in a nearby room. Jessamine still wasn’t sure what was going on, but she figured that neither her brother nor her roommate had ever lied to her before, so if something was happening, then they would be upfront about it.
Tyler collected his things in silence, having scarfed down a bowl of cereal as Jessamine had gotten ready for the day, looking up every thirty seconds to see if Cassie would step into the hallway. But his sister’s roommate hadn’t emerged until after Jessamine, so now the three of them were standing near the apartment’s front door, about to say their goodbyes.
“I guess I’ll see you guys next weekend,” Tyler said, directing his words at his sister, though it was extremely difficult not to glance at Cassie. “Don’t miss me too much big sis.”
Jessamine rolled her eyes but laughed, standing on her tip toes to wrap her arms around her brother’s neck for a goodbye hug and kissing him on the cheek as she pulled away. “Drive safe. Text me when you get home.”
“Will do,” he grinned, taking a deep breath as he turned his attention to Cassie, sticking his hands into the pockets of his jeans. Under normal circumstances, he would hug her, but he was afraid he wouldn’t want to let go, so he thought it best to keep from touching her at all. “It was nice to meet you, Cass. I’ll see you soon.”
Understanding why he was keeping his distance and thankful for that decision, she nodded once and whispered back, “See you soon.”
With one last tiny smile, he leaned down to pick his duffel bag and car keys off the floor and turned to exit the apartment. Cassie stared after him, already looking forward to next weekend.