I always wondered how
something so bright
could look so lonely
in the blankness of night
For reasons beyond me, I was painfully aware of Kayden’s gaze being permanently fixed on me. All the attention made it hard not to choke on the cheesed-soaked bun that was currently torturing me. With all the patience in the world, I slowly pinched pieces of the burger and fed it into my mouth with the hope that Kayden would get tired of my antics.
I didn’t dare look up at him until I was done.
I spent every second savoring the tastes lavishing my tongue. The moment I sunk my teeth into a mouthful of pickles and onions was the point where I was just a step away from humming in delight. I almost expected a comment from Kayden but he just stood there, watching.
It was then that I realized that I wasn’t winning this standoff. I was going to have to eat the whole thing.
I did my best to speed things up as neatly as possible but I still got cheese all over my fingers. I felt tempted to lick it off but eating in front of him was already mortifying enough.
“Now, was that so hard?” he asked.
I looked up at him. I found myself staring into his blue eyes. My gaze traced his entire face before landing on his lips.
On seeing his smug grin, I had this inexplicable urge to tell him that I had swallowed most of the burger without bothering to chew or even taste it. But. . . all he wanted was to pay me back with food, saying that would have been too mean of me, wouldn’t it?
I folded the cheesy wrapper and carefully stuffed it into my pocket. “Yes. It was.”
“I see that you aren’t big on littering.”
“I prefer not to do things that are harmful to the environment,” I shrugged. Now, I didn’t know what to do with my stained hands. I had managed not to get any cheese on my bandages but now I was to scared to touch anything.
“That’s good to know.” He handed me a serviette I didn’t realize he was holding. “You have cheese,” he gestured towards me face, ”everywhere.”
I passed the paper napkin over my lips and cheeks in panic before pausing and realizing that I had eaten the burger the way I had to prevent this exact eventuality. I had never eaten in front of anyone but Dad, Mother and her ‘guests’ so I always tried my best to avoid situations where people had to see me eat.
Kayden had been pretty insistent though, so I had done my best to eat as prettily as possible—even with the absence of a fork and knife.
Mother always told me that I had terrible eating habits—and that was a big no-no. At any point in a meal I was either eating too fast or too slowly. Thinking about how long I needed to wait before taking a spoon of food made me not want to eat at all but etiquette was etiquette and I was taught it for a reason. Mother never wanted her ‘guests’ to think that I wasn’t well-bred.
Now I wondered what thoughts Trevor had of me after I had knock my plate to the floor and ruined his well-prepared lunch. By then did he still care what position I placed my fork and knife when Mother sent me to my room?
“Calm down Olly, I was just pulling your legs.” Kayden’s laugh interrupted my thoughts.
Not knowing what to say, I settled on glaring at him. I guess I should have known by now that he didn’t have a mean bone in his body. Even if I had been drenched in cheese, he wouldn’t have said anything. Maybe he would have just smiled.
“Woah, I’m so terrified,” he put his hand on his chest and looked like he was going to laugh again.
When I narrowed my gaze even further, he wisely chose to hold it back.
“You think you’re funny, but you’re not,” I told him with a huff and wiped down my fingers.
“Really?” Kayden stroked his jaw and stared at the wall behind me in contemplation. “I beg to differ.”
I looked down at my hands and thought of a reply. The conversation had ended, hadn’t it? I had to say something new or else this would be it? We were only out here because we were talking, weren’t we?
“You’re not really angry, are you?” he asked after I had stayed silent for too long.
I shook my head and sighed helplessly. “I was just thinking about what to say.”
When his hand landed on my shoulder, I was forced to look at him again. “What?”
“Well, let’s go,” he said.
“Your apartment,” Kayden carried the bags off the bench. “You don’t want to stay here in the snow all night, do you?”
I reached beneath my hood and tugged on a couple strands of my hair to wake myself up. Did he mean what I thought he meant or was I interpreting it all wrong? Did going to the apartment mean that he was dropping me off or. . . “You—. . . You’re coming over?”
“Do you want me to?” he asked in a gentle way that made it hard for me to say no. “It would be ungentlemanly of me not to walk you to your door after taking up so much of your time. And it’s only fair that you’d offer me a cup of water as payment for logging your heavy groceries up all those stairs, isn’t it?”
“It’s not my fault that the elevator is out of service,” I blew out a breath. “And I didn’t ask you to help me, did I?”
“You didn’t, but,” he turned away from me to look at the apartment building, “we still have to tell each other our secrets, don’t we?”
Knowing that I couldn’t come up with any words that would stop him, I got to my feet and rushed to block Kayden before he could take another step forward. “You don’t have to do that. . . I mean, I don’t have any secrets.”
He peeked over my shoulder with a knowing grin stretching on his lips. “Are you hiding something from me, Princess?”
“Yes! I mean, no. I’m not,” I held up my hands. “The bracelets come before the secrets, don’t they?”
“Yeah. . . That’s right.”
I watched his shoulders fall and immediately felt like I was making a mistake. He was being so nice about everything and here I was rejecting him without even giving a valid reason.
“We can always hang out tomorrow,” I said, hoping that it made things better. What I really wanted to tell him was that I couldn’t risk him and mother running into each other if she decided to come back tonight. If she was in a good mood, she’d kick him out. If she wasn’t, things were going to escalate out of proportion and we’d be lucky if we ended up being the only ones affected.
Kayden shook his head and I felt my own hopes deflate. “Not tomorrow. I have things to do.”
“Uh,” I was genuinely curious about what he would be doing on Sunday but since I didn’t want to give him the impression that I thought homeless people did nothing with their lives, I added, “What about Monday?”
“Nope,” he said with a sigh. “And don’t you have school?”
“I could always skip,” I said, with the sole aim of turning his frown into a smile.
I had never skipped a day in my life and he probably knew that but his laugh caught me by surprise. I felt my cheeks grow warm from just watching him laugh and knowing that I was the one who made it happen.
I ducked my head and stepped to the side to allow him to pass.
“I’ll be free all day on Wednesday,” I heard him say, “but don’t jeopardize your education for my sake.”
“I won’t,” I lied before I could even register what I was saying. I didn’t mind missing a few classes so that we could spend more time together. I just needed to get Arleen to teach me how to skip school and I’d be set. “I’m. . .scared of cats.”
“That’s my secret. No one knows it. Well, you do now,” I hooked my thumbs together, the thought alone enough to make me smile. “That, and I like pink but. . .you already know that.”
“Well, unlike you I have so many secrets,” Kayden said and for that reason that made my smile grow wider. “I almost don’t know which one to tell you first but what I do know is that I have to save the darkest one for later.”
“Then,” I walked a couple steps ahead of him, “tell me one that no one else knows.”
“Oh, now that’s hard,” he said.
“It wasn’t hard for me.”
“That’s because you are an honest person.”
“And you’re not? I mean, when I asked—” When I turned, I found him directly in front of me. His exhales fanned warm air across my cheeks and if I hadn’t been holding my breath I would have been able to taste it on my tongue.
I took a step back and swallowed down the rest of my sentence. I couldn’t even remember what I had wanted to say.
Kayden cleared his throat and nodded wordlessly to the shut doors in front of us.
“Oh,” I fumbled to get my keys out and practically threw myself into getting the doors open.
When the heated air in the lobby hit me, I allowed myself to breathe again. Now I had an excuse for why my face was so hot. I waited a while before holding the door out for him.
“How gentlemanly of you,” he grinned, and my thoughts travelled back to what he had said earlier.
Was he really going to ignore my awkward babblings and invite himself into my house anyway? Did I want him to do that? Was it wronged if I did? Was I reading too much into his words? Was he just joking again?
“I. . .” I tried to ask him that but none of the words came out. I gave up before I choked on them. “Thank you?”
“You’re welcome, Princess.”
We walked up the stairs in silence, and with every second that passed I thought out the situation I was currently in. I knew Mother wasn’t back because I had been watching the apartment from the moment I realized Kayden had been waiting for me till now.
Usually, when she was out I worried about whether she would abandon me and never come back again. Now though, I almost didn’t want her back.
I wanted to hang out with Kayden somewhere warm—as beautiful as the snow was—and right now this apartment was the only place available but Mother’s presence eliminated it as an option. If we couldn’t hang out here, then when could we talk? I didn’t want to go to diner again and I didn’t think Kayden’s new boss would appreciate me distracting him during work hours.
It wasn’t until I bumped into Kayden that I realized that I hadn’t been paying attention to where I was walking.
“We’re here,” he nodded at the door in front of us.
“You remember where I live. . .”
“Of course,” he nudged my side with his elbow then winked at me. “If I didn’t, how would I be able to pester you?”
“And why would you want to pester me?” I walked around him so that I could get to the keyhole.
“Oh? Did I say pester?” Kayden asked as I turned my key in the lock. “Replace that with, ‘deliver a friendship bracelet to’.”
I turned to him, once again surprised by the things he had admitted to being able to do. If I was hearing things right, he could make both cookies and bracelets. “You’re making them?”
“That was what my sentence implied, wasn’t it?” he asked sheepishly.
“But can you make them?”
“Of course, I can,” he said with his chest puffed up in pride. “I’ll have you know that I personally taught Janice how to make the ones that got her a class full of friends.”
“I guess I just have to take your word for it since I can’t confirm things with her,” I grinned.
“You should,” he held the groceries out to me.
“You . . .don’t want to come inside and get a cup of water for your efforts?”
“I’d hate to decline such a thoughtful offer,” he chewed on his lower lip for a bit, “but unfortunately I have somewhere to be in thirty minutes.”
“Oh,” I took the plastic bags from him. Now, having soggy bread for breakfast didn’t seem so bad. “See you on Wednesday?”
“Definitely, Princess,” he shoved his hands into the pockets of his jeans and smiled brightly. “Wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
I stood in the doorway and watched him walk away; I continued to stand there even when he reached the end of the hallway and turned back to smile and wave at me.
It was only five minutes later, my eyes still fixed on the spot where I had last seen him, that I noticed that his cosy wool scarf was still wrapped around me. And it only took one hasty inhale for me to realize that I was now drenched in his scent.
I smelt like coffee and oranges, and the smile I sported afterwards lasted from the moment I shut the door till the moment I went to bed with my favorite pillowcase. And all the while I wondered what Kayden’s deepest, darkest secret was.