We were at the start line, head to head or rather, toe to toe, in between the walls at the beginning of the corridor topping the grand staircase. Jacob was shaking his legs out like a professional runner and I was sitting down, taking my socks of for more traction on the carpet.
This was serious.
I bunched my socks together and threw them against the wall, letting them drop to the ground a few feet away from me. Jacob blew out a breath and was still.
“I was born ready,” I smirked, psyching myself up. I toed the line and he matched my stance. He was a giant compared to me but I was on the relay team until year nine and Germans weren’t generally interested in sport, according to my German teacher. I figured I had a good chance, but his legs were long so I drew up a few back up plans in my mind in case I fell behind.
Jacob put his phone on the ground and set a countdown from ten. As the seconds ticked down my heart began to beat faster and then, a stroke of brilliance hit me like a truck.
“Hey Jay?” I asked, peering at him from under my lashes, making my voice a little nervous. I used his nickname for nostalgic value, and I had to hide my satisfaction when his concentration lapsed.
Seven. Six. Five.
“I’ve been wanting to tell you this since you came back,” I said and his stance completely altered. Instead of facing down the hall with knees bent, feet arching, his body was to me, legs straight, feet flat.
“What is it?” He asked, taking a small step towards me that was all that was possible in the small gap from wall to wall. His voice sounded like he more than cared, but I didn’t have the chance to feel guilt.
Two. One. Ding.
I sprinted off down the hall and left a cursing boy in my wake. It gave me two seconds at max but it was enough that I was ahead of him until the red scarf we had laid out halfway down the hall. I crossed it and then allowed myself to laugh, a breathless laugh that comes following a hard sprint.
I slowed to a jog and turned to see Jacob’s reaction but he was still running, and he was running at me.
“Oh shit!” My eyes widened and I tried to dodge around him but he slowed just long enough to grab me around the waist and drag me to the ground.
Before I could wriggle or squirm away he was sitting on my legs, my arms pinned above my head and his face directly above mine. There was a shadow of a smile leering behind his stern look but he didn’t show it.
That’s when I realized how close his face was. It had been closer, but all I had to do was lean up and –
No!! What was I thinking? I couldn't do that. Why would I want to do that?? What the hell just happened?
But Jacob didn’t notice. He was in the process of shaking his head at me, making a show to cluck his tongue in disappointment. “That was unfair.”
I poked my tongue out and squirmed like a five year old but he just held me in place, his beautiful face lit by the warm glow of the hall lamps. They cast a shadow beneath his lips and it was as if someone had taken possession of my body because all I wanted to do was press my lips to his. But I couldn’t and I wouldn’t. I had to fight whatever was attempting to take me over and remain cool, calm and collected. I had to remain Kaia.
“You don’t think so?” He asked, the only movement was the raise of his eyebrow but it was enough; enough to change his face from firm to incredibly sexy. Who knew one movement could do so much?
I bit my lip and shook my head, determined not to let him win.
“Well then… I think you deserve a punishment.” He started to lean closer, so close I could see the magnificent gold flecks among the blue oceans that were his eyes. He licked his lips and my pulse raced, my cheeks flushed, and he pulled away with a satisfied smirk.
I thought that was it. I was filled with a sense of relief and coldness when he got off me, but neither lasted long. He lifted me up onto his shoulder with a thunderous laugh that echoed down the 1am quiet hall.
“Put me down!” I shrieked, but no matter how much I thrashed he wouldn’t let up. I didn’t care. I kicked and squealed and squirmed, until we got to stairs.
“No, Jacob,” I stated and I could hear his grin as he said,
“Yes, Kaia,” he mocked and up he climbed.
“You’re going to drop me!” I started to freak, my voice reverberating the tight space. It wasn’t wide enough to fit two abreast or high enough that someone a touch taller than Jacob wouldn’t have to duck. It had turned back to stone spiral and the stairs just kept going. Infinitely, as Jacob disputed.
“You gotta trust me,” he chuckled, as if trust was an amusing concept.
“I don’t fancy being dropped on stone,” I deadpanned.
“Again. It’s just trust.”
“Just trust? You say trust as if it’s a nothing concept.”
“It should be when it comes to me,” he mumbled so low I don’t think I was meant to hear it. I pretended I didn’t.
“Where are you taking me?”
“Well,” he paused, the only sound his light footsteps, despite his height, muscle mass and the entire body he was carrying on his shoulder with ease. “Considering you acted so unfairly in our race, I have decided your fate.”
“Which is?” I prompted.
“Throwing you off the castle.”
I squealed, and began to thrash, and Jacob had to stop walking to set me down, but he didn’t let me go.
He slid me off his shoulder so that my back was against the hard stone, his hands on either side of my head and his face lowered to be in front of mine. “Do you really expect me to throw you off the top of a castle?”
He was close and his cologne that I was beginning to think was his natural scent was overwhelming my senses and I had a hard time concentrating on anything that flowed out of his mouth. I managed to shake my head, but that was hardly it.
His eyes roamed over my face, pausing on my lips for a split second longer before smirking, and then swung me into his arms this time – bridal style, again – and carried me the rest of the way, taunting me with my punishment.
I had lost my brain capacity and speaking abilities so I stayed pretty much silent, apart from the odd, “Oh hell no.”
At the top of the staircase was a thick wooden door which Jacob seemed to maneuver easily with me in his arms. If it weren’t such a weird situation, I would have thought he’d done it before.
But then I had no time to think about it because he set me down, and we were on the roof of the castle, his castle, overlooking a magnificent countryside, illuminated by the crescent moon and the millions of stars above. It took the breath away from me, and Jacob made a sound of contentment in the back of his throat.
“Beautiful,” he said and all I could do was nod, wandering over to the stone wall in amazement.
“How is this punishment?” I managed to breathe, my words becoming fog in front of my mouth. I shivered, only realizing now how far below freezing it was. I only had a t-shirt and sweats on. Not even socks against the stone.
As if it were an every day occurrence, Jacob just walked up behind me and wrapped the jacket he was still wearing around me, his arms around my waist and his chin on my head.
“I was going to lock you out but it’s colder than I thought.”
“And you’re not that much of an idiot,” I said and he chucked.
“No. I’m not.”
I could feel every breath of his, every rise and fall of his chest on my back, calming me to a near resting state.
“Why would you ever want to leave this place?” I had to ask, looking out over the dully lit country, or what I could see of it. It spanned miles with a high-rise city in front and countryside to the sides. Truly magnificent. I know if I had the option, I would choose here.
“I didn’t,” he said after a moment.
“What?” I turned, still inside his jacket so that we were inexplicably close yet again. But this time it wasn’t intense or surreal and I didn’t have questionable urges. It was just two friends in a conversation.
“I didn’t want to leave,” he repeated.
“Education is important to my father,” Jacob explained, looking out over my head instead of to me. “The schooling here isn’t adequate for us, according to my father. He brought us here for, well, it doesn’t matter, but our intellect gradually suffered so he sent us back.”
I nodded, a small lump in the back of my throat for a reason I couldn't comprehend. “Does that mean you’ll move back after graduation?”
“Maybe after university,” he shrugged, seeming in his own little world. “It depends what happens in the next few months. Choices need to be made. It’s on those choices I can decide my future.”
Choices. It seemed ominous, and also like it was a topic I shouldn’t push. So I didn’t. I just rested my head against his chest and enjoyed the warmth his body radiated.
“You’ll figure it out,” I mumbled and I could hear his nod, but I doubted it was a sure one. I let him think, let him allow his mind to wander like I know it needed to. I let mine wander too, but not too far. Only to the boy I was wrapped up in.
I thought about what it felt like with him, like everything was normal, like I was normal, and that everything was going to be okay. He made the events that had been a core part of my existence for the past too many years fade away, so I could become who I was before the disaster broke apart my family. I liked who I was with him, and I liked how I wanted to be a better person around him. Whether it was to impress him or because I wanted to match him, I didn't know. But I could feel our friendship, if that’s what you could call it, strengthening with every minute we spent together.
And I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
Standing on top of the castle felt like standing on top of the world, except that the girl in my arms was shivering so hard she could have been having a seizure, so I insisted I was tired to get her to come back downstairs with me.
When we were in the warmth of the staircase and began our descent, it was like she entered a sudden high and the energy that radiated from her was almost tangible. There was no way in hell she was going to sleep with all of that going on, but I guess it wasn’t my business, no matter how much I wanted it to be.
I had picked up the scarf on the way back to our rooms and said a brief goodnight, to which she’d pouted and stomped into her room, closing the door behind her. I left her alone to wreak havoc and got ready for bed, turning on the electric blanket and climbing into bed in just my boxers. It had been a fucking long day, and all I wanted to do was close my eyes and drift into the land of the unconscious. Within minutes I was conked out, but it didn’t last long.
I woke groggy and with a groan rumbling from the base of my throat, knowing the reason for my consciousness. I liked the girl but she was going to be dead in a few seconds.
That was until I opened my eyes and saw she was only in cotton shorts that only just covered her ass and a t-shirt that was ten times too big for her but managed to make her look like…
Like what? I couldn’t put my finger on it, but whatever it was, it drove me insane.
She perched herself at the end of my bed like an owl, except this owl was cross legged and had a huge grin on her face.
“Yes Jacob?” She asked in an innocent voice. I let another groan out and her face, only lit up by the moon through the window, contorted a smidge before smoothing out. Anyone would have noticed, and anyone would have asked what the hell that was about. So I did, and the dark couldn’t hide the shade of red her cheeks went.
“What is it?” I prompted, propping myself up on my elbow. It was then that I remembered I was only wearing boxers and this could get awkward very quickly.
“You need to stop groaning.”
I smirked a little and groaned. Her eyes lit with fire and she literally jumped on me, landing on the lower part of my stomach with a hand clapped over my mouth.
“I swear to any god there is that if you don’t stop doing that, you’re going to regret it.”
I raised an eyebrow and her expression turned even more murderous. “Or that.”
“I can’t raise my eyebrow?” I slowly asked, not sure whether she was taking the piss or being dead serious.
“No.” Serious it was.
“I guess I can’t ask why?”
She shook her head.
“Okay. Well then can I ask what you’re doing in here?”
“I don’t know,” she said, chipper as ever and a complete change from her previous tone. That girl gave me whiplash. And I liked that. What was wrong with me? “I can’t sleep so I’m bugging you.”
I just sighed. “You could never bug me.”
I knew she didn’t believe that. Hell, I wasn’t sure I believed it. She used to annoy the living daylights out of me but now that I had feelings for her, did that change? “Is that a challenge?”
I chuckled a little. “No. How about you get off me and we can do something to entertain your crazy little being.”
“But I’m comfy,” she pouted.
“I’m not a couch.”
“You should become a couch! I’d buy you.”
“You make me sound like a hooker.”
“Wait, you’re not a hooker?”
“Secret’s out,” I laughed, but then I really needed my space because every time she laughed or moved it was far too close to the downstairs area and I was one slip of the mind away from something embarrassing happening. Or, rising. So I did what I could and rolled over to make her fall onto the bed beside me. She wasn’t happy, but even with her scrunched up face she looked playful. She reached over to my hair and tried to mess it up, but then her hand went from rigid movements to slow and soft, as if she was playing with it.
“You have really nice hair,” she informed me which made sense, considering she wasn’t taking her hand back. Her eyes wavered to mine as if for permission and I just rolled my eyes and said; “You can keep touching it if you want.”
It’s not like I was going to get much sleep after this anyway.
I don’t remember how we got to this position but Kaia was sitting behind me, my head on a pillow in her lap and her hand playing with my hair. It was surprisingly relaxing, the gentle, slow movements of her hands through my hair, tugging slightly at the roots but in a massaging way. I didn’t want to get used to it but I did, and I felt myself growing sleepier the more we talked.
“I’m sorry,” I yawned, not having enough energy to even lift my hand to my mouth. “But I can’t keep my eyes open.”
I heard her contagious yawn following mine and smiled, my eyes almost closed as she slid out from under me, pausing on the bed beside me as if she were thinking hard about something.
I blame it on the tiredness but I leaned over to her and slid my arm around her waist, pulling her under the covers and against my chest. I knew I would be subject to questioning later, but at that time it was the only thing that felt right.
“What are you doing?” She whispered, her body relaxing into mine.
I breathed a sigh of contentment and whispered back; “Something I’ll regret later.”
And then I was out.