Ready Or Not

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Platonic Or Romantic

They got into a routine and as much as Jessamine hated to admit it, she’d spend her whole weekend looking forward to her Saturdays with Gage. He’d show up in the morning with the world’s brightest smile and a to-go cup of coffee and she’d grumble something about how normal functioning humans shouldn’t be so perky before noon, but then she’d take a sip of her drink and go along for the ride.

So far, they’d nearly thrown up at the local amusement park after eating way too much junk food and riding every ride twice, bickered as they competed in bowling and swinging on the swings at the nearest playground, and taken a walk along the beach that Jessamine insisted wasn’t at all romantic. Even though it kind of was.

Slowly but surely, she was becoming less and less creatively blocked. Her sketchbook was filling up with ideas, whether she was inspired by the twinkling carnival lights or the disco colors of the bowling alley or the clouds in the sky at the park or the colors of the waves as they washed up on the shore, she didn’t feel like her life was at so much of a standstill. And maybe she could have had those unblocking experiences on her own and gotten the same result. Except, it wouldn’t have been the same. Because what had made those days all the better was just being with Gage.

Technically speaking, she and Gage had hung out a total of four times. And with each passing Saturday they spent together, she liked him more and more. And that scared the absolute shit out of her.

Jessamine wasn’t used to feeling this way about someone she barely knew. There was a reason she hadn’t had any successful long term romantic relationships. She just always assumed that she wasn’t meant to love someone that way.

But with Gage…well, it was too early to even consider love. But she felt something. Something big and beautiful and potentially heartbreaking and it was so damn terrifying that sometimes when she thought about him, she could hardly breathe. He was the sun and the moon and the stars all rolled into one; warm and bright and so full of hope, a perpetual light in the darkness.

And maybe this new friendship wouldn’t last forever. Maybe they’d grow apart. But even if that did happen, she knew she’d always cherish the weekends they had together. So as she stared at the painting in the art museum they’d come to visit, she decided that she’d at least try to live each of these moments to the fullest.

“You like this one, huh?”

Despite the fact that his words were spoken softly, she was startled, jumping a little before flashing him a smile and nodding. “How’d you know?”

“You’ve been staring at it for like 15 minutes,” he replied. Truthfully, he’d been starting at her while she stared at the painting, watching in fascination as an array of emotions flitted through her eyes.

He’d chosen the museum because he knew they both appreciated art, and he’d never been so happy with a decision in his life. Watching her soak in the emotions in each new piece: the hope, the happiness, the darkness, the fear, was like watching her fall in love and as she fell in love with the art, he fell deeper and deeper in love with her.

“It’s beautiful,” she whispered, turning her attention back to the painting, getting lost in the reds and the pinks, the light and the softness. His closeness filled her with warmth and as she stood there, mesmerized by the colors, she felt so at peace that it was almost surreal.

He leaned towards the wall to read the description. “Love at First Sight. Cool.”

His words were so casual that she looked away from the art to raise an eyebrow, “That doesn’t freak you out?”

“Should it?” he asked with a shrug. Considering how he felt about her, it would be silly of him not to believe.

She tilted her head to the side, wondering why her heart rate had picked up. “Does that mean you believe in love at first sight?”

“Absolutely,” he replied, maybe a bit too quickly. “Don’t you?”

He wanted her to say yes, to give him hope that the depth her feelings matched his, but he knew that was unlikely. Jessamine wasn’t a romantic. But he loved that about her too.

“Not at all,” she said, going to her standard answer. Thinking about it logically was less scary than analyzing her emotional state. “I mean, how could you possibly know you love someone without even speaking to them? It’s irrational.”

She was right, of course. It wasn’t rational. It made absolutely no sense that he could stare into her eyes for all of five seconds and know that he wanted to be by her side for the rest of his life. But he’d never really thought love had to make sense.

“I don’t know anyone who’s ever been in love who has said it’s rational,” he whispered.

She let out a shaky breath, staring blankly at the painting again. “I guess I wouldn’t know.”

He took a step closer to her, the sleeve of his t-shirt brushing against the bare skin on her shoulder. She shivered. “What do you mean?”

They shouldn’t be having this conversation. It was dangerous. Besides, these were secrets that she only told to her family, her brother, the girls she considered to be sisters, even if they weren’t related by blood. Still, she couldn’t seem to stop the words from escaping her lips. “I’ve never been in love.”

“So? You’re young. It’ll happen eventually.” He was absurdly pleased by her revelation. He knew it was selfish, to want her first experience with deep romantic emotions to be with him.

She knew that too. That’s what the girls always said when they had this conversation: that it was just a matter of time. Or, that she didn’t need that kind of love in her life in order to feel complete. And she agreed with that sentiment. She never disregarded the importance of platonic love, of familial love. She loved her family more than anything in the entire world, and knowing that she had those kinds of bonds kept her grounded and sane, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t curious. “Maybe, but…”

“What?” He knocked his shoulder lightly against hers, wishing he could reach out and grab her hand. They hadn’t touched much, save a few quick goodbye hugs and some light touches to guide each other through crowds. Holding her hand would probably freak her out and from what he could tell, she was struggling enough with the situation as it was.

She blew out a breath. Maybe she shouldn’t have brought this up in the first place. Surely this was the kind of conversation you saved for further along in a friendship. “It’s stupid.”

He stood still, hoping his presence could substitute for comfort in lieu of his touch. “I doubt that, baby.”

Nodding, she took a moment to gather her thoughts before she spoke. “Okay, don’t get me wrong, I don’t think I need a man to be happy or anything and it’s not as though I don’t have so many people in my life who love me as it is, but it’s not the same, you know? Having people who love you and having someone be in love with you. It’s different. And watching everyone around me fall in love, I guess…,” she paused, her mind racing as she tried to figure out exactly what it was she was trying to say, “I guess I just think it would be kind of nice for someone to feel that way about me.”

More than anything, he wanted to tell her that she already had someone who felt that way about her. That he had been in love with her from the moment their eyes met. That she had his heart more completely than she would probably ever know.

But now wasn’t the time. She would think he was just saying it to make her feel better and when he finally did tell her how he felt, he didn’t want her to believe that his intentions were anything but utterly pure.

“Someone will,” he assured her. He opened an arm in her direction, silently asking if she was okay with being touched, and biting back a sigh of contentment when she stepped into his embrace.

“I promise I’m not usually this sappy,” she murmured against his chest. His arms were strong around her, warm and welcoming, and it felt so completely natural that she almost had to fight back a dreamy sigh. Closing her eyes briefly, she allowed herself to enjoy his warmth for a few moments longer, knowing it was quite possible they might not end up in this position again.

He snorted, bringing her out of her dreamlike state. “Oh, I’m aware.”

She laughed as she detangled herself from his arms feeling, unreasonably cold as they turned to walk towards the next painting.

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