It was a little after one when Henry and Josh stopped and had lunch on Monday. They got sandwiches from a local deli, and ate in Josh’s truck.
As Henry made his way through his turkey on whole wheat, he psyched himself up to raise the subject of him and Jess to Josh. (He’d been psyching himself up all morning.)
Once he finished eating, he took a hit off his water bottle, crumpled his sandwich wrapper and napkin and threw them in the paper bag their lunch had come in.
Clearing his throat, he waited until Josh finished his last bite before jumping into the conversation.
His best friend choking wouldn’t be a good way to start the convo.
“So,” he began, drawing his friend’s gaze. “There’s, ah, something I want to talk to you about.”
“What’s up?” Josh asked and tossed his garbage in with Henry’s.
“This is gonna seem kinda out of left field...” Henry forewarned. “... but, uh... what would you think of me... and Jessica dating?”
The confused look Josh threw his way from the other side of the cab was not unexpected, and would have been comical if Henry wasn’t so nervous.
“Come again.” his buddy said, eyebrows furrowing over the bridge of his nose.
“Would you be okay with me seeing Jessica?” Henry repeated.
“You...” Josh said finally, tilting his head toward him, “and Jessica...” he paused. “... dating?” he was clearly baffled by the possibility proposed.
Henry gave a simple nod in reply.
“Would you... mind?” he asked.
“I, uh...” Josh shrugged. “I don’t mind.” he said, obviously still digesting the hypothetical put to him.
Henry relaxed a little. Josh’s response wasn’t very effusive, but it also wasn’t negative. He’d take that.
“But...” Josh continued.
“But... what?” Henry asked.
“But, I can’t see Jessica going for it, man. ” Josh replied. “I mean, you’ve given her a hard time for years, I don’t think she’s interested in you in that way.” Josh paused, gave him an apologetic look. “Sorry.”
Relief flooded Henry that that was the grounds for Josh’s ‘but’. It was only logical his friend assumed what he did. Henry knew his assumption was wrong, though, and he couldn’t hold back the grin that spread across his face.
“Well...” he drew out the word. “... actually...”
Josh caught on to where he was going and he didn’t get a chance to finish saying that Jess was interested in him.
“You already asked her out?” his friend cut in, eyebrows reaching for his hairline.
Was he glowing? He was so happy, he felt like he was glowing.
“We’ve been on a couple of dates.” he shared, keeping the activities of their most recent date to himself.
Josh did not need to know about that.
“Huh.” was all Josh said.
His friend’s gaze shifted out the windshield as he digested this news.
The sun was at its peak, no clouds in the sky to filter its heat. There was a nice breeze though, and Josh had parked in the shade, so it had been comfortable in the truck as they ate.
Henry waited, eager for a little more feedback than that ‘huh’.
Was there more behind his friend’s ‘but’ than just that he thought Jessica wouldn’t go for him? Now that he knew Jess actually was into him, was he uncomfortable with the idea of them dating?
The possibility had Henry tensing up again.
If Josh was uncomfortable with him dating Jess, things between him and his friend were about to become strained because Henry didn’t want to stop seeing Jess.
“Well...” Josh’s gaze returned to him after a moment. A smile lit up the guy’s face. “I think it’s great!”
“Yeah?” he asked, breathing a sigh of relief.
“Yeah!” Josh beamed. “You and my sister...” Josh’s expression, already enthusiastic became even more so. Clearly he was delighted with something that just occurred to him. “... hey, if things work out between you two, if you guys end up getting married, you and I would be brothers!”
“Whoa.” Henry chuckled. “We just started dating...” he pointed out, the mention of marriage making him uncomfortable.
He didn’t know if he wanted to get married. Just being with Jess was enough for him. He didn’t need the ceremony and paperwork. Marriage was a future subject he and Jess would have to discuss at some point, but not yet. It was way too soon. Or, maybe it wasn’t too soon. Maybe, he just wasn’t ready. If Jess felt marriage was a must, he didn’t want to know that yet.
“But...” Josh said. “... you’re serious about her, right?” he asked, assuming the role of protective brother in a blink. “... if you’re just fooling around with my sister...?”
Seeing that the delight had left Josh’s gaze, that his eyes had narrowed with gravity, Henry jumped to reassure him.
“No!” he interrupted. “I’m serious about Jessica, Josh. I’ve had feelings for her for a long time... I just...” he paused. “... think we shouldn’t rush anything.” he suggested.
Josh’s brow furrowed once more.
His buddy’s forehead was getting a workout with the up and down.
“You’ve had feelings for Jessica for a while?” he asked.
“I have. Yeah.” Henry replied.
Josh huffed out a laugh, shook his head.
“You’ve got a weird take on foreplay.” he murmured. “Years of pissing off the woman you’re interested in?” he scoffed. “Not the way I would have gone. You’re lucky my sister went out with you, dumbass.”
Henry snorted, relieved Josh had flipped back from protective big brother mode to best friend mode.
Josh started the truck and while he did so, Henry texted Jess and let her know she’d been right.
At work, Jess paused in her lemon zesting when her phone vibrated in her pocket. She wiped her hands off on her Taste of Home apron before pulling out her cell and checking the screen. A smile bloomed on her face when she saw who it was.
Her body reacted like he’d just walked in the room, going all melty and tingly.
His message was succinct.
Told Josh. You were right. she read, and while she wasn’t surprised - she’d been ninety per cent confident her brother would be cool - she still felt glad for Henry. She knew how nervous he’d been about how Josh was going to react to them going out.
He’d been worried unnecessarily because if her brother had been an idiot, she would have just had to put him in his place, set him straight - no one told her who she could or couldn’t date. This wasn’t the eighteen hundreds.
She wrote a cheeky message back to Henry.
Get used to saying those words... she wrote. ... since I’m always right.
She added the laughing face emoji with the tongue sticking out.
Henry sent her the emoji rolling its eyes.
When he didn’t send anything else, she put her phone back in her pocket, resumed zesting lemons. Zesting wasn’t her favorite task to do, but she’d gotten pretty quick at it over the years.
When she got that done, she started on making icing that would be drizzled over scones the next morning.
The afternoon rolled on as she worked on one task after another, her shift winding down towards its finish. She didn’t get any more texts, which surprised her. She’d kinda expected Josh to message her after learning the news she was dating Henry.
At two, Erica and Amanda came in, and at three, Jess headed home. In her living room, feet up, TV off, she texted Laura.
Call me when you get home. she typed. Have news! she ended with a smiley emoji so her friend knew the news was good.
It was almost six, and she’d just finished eating supper, when her phone vibrated with a text. She guessed Laura had opted to text instead of call.
Anxious to share her news, she quickly pulled out her phone, checked her message. It wasn’t a text from Laura, it was a text from Josh. He’d finally got around to messaging her.
You’re seeing Henry? he asked. Why didn’t you say something?
Henry wanted to tell you. she thumbed in and sent.
A message from Laura popped up.
What’s the news? she asked.
Jess told her friend about her date with Henry Saturday night... and where it had led.
OMG! And?! How was it?
Jess’s smile was slow and slinky.
It was amazing. she typed in.
What was amazing? Josh asked.
Jess blinked at her brother’s question. Shit. She’d sent her last message to her brother instead of Laura. She blamed Laura for her mistake. If her friend had called her like she’d told her to, instead of texted, she wouldn’t have made such a slip-up.
Nothing. she told Josh. That was meant for Laura.
Oh. her brother replied.
She typed ‘It was amazing’ again, and made sure to send her text to the right person this time.
Details. Laura demanded.
Jess was about to call her friend - texting wasn’t the best way to share details - but for some reason hesitated. Normally she shared everything with Laura, but she suddenly didn’t want to share the more intimate details of her and Henry’s relationship. She wanted to keep it private, between her and Henry. At least, for now.
She started texting again. She’d give her friend the gist without going into personal details.
Remember that love scene in ‘Aftershock’? she asked.
‘Aftershock’ was another book by Jenna Rollie. She’d read it not that long ago, and promptly loaned the book to her friend.
Oh, wow! Laura wrote back. It was that good?
The sigh that left Jess was long, and slow, and full of satisfaction.
Yes, she thought, it had been that good.
Three dots appeared. Laura was typing another message.
Her text was short and sweet, and had Jess chuckling.
Josh pulled up alongside the curb across from Taste of Home and threw his truck in park.
While he waited for traffic to pass before getting out, Henry undid his seatbelt, opened his door, dropped down to the sidewalk and came around to his side. They crossed the street, and entered the bakery, setting the bell above the door tinkling.
Jess was with a customer so he and Henry hung back, waiting until she was done, then approached the counter as the customer headed out the door, a large box in hand.
“Hey.” Jess smiled, leaning against her side of the counter.
His sister made brief eye contact with him, her gaze quickly sliding over to Henry, her smile becoming personal to him.
Josh glanced over at his friend, took in the way he was looking at his sister.
Okaaaay... the two of them making doe eyes at each other was weird. Maybe he wasn’t as okay with them dating as he’d thought.
After years of seeing them sniping at one another, seeing them like this was going to take some getting used to.
Turning a blind eye to the new couple, he moved away, stopped in front of the display of danishes.
After a moment, Jess and Henry came over. Henry must have asked for a cinnamon bun because his sister grabbed a set of tongs, picked out the biggest cinnamon bun, put it in a white paper bag, and set it on the counter.
He asked for his usual apple danish and she bagged that up, set it on the counter beside Henry’s cinnamon bun, then got out two paper cups.
He grabbed one, Henry the other, and they crossed the room and got their coffee, then came back to Jess, and paid for their stuff.
The normal routine of their typical trip into the bakery improved Josh’s comfort level - the familiar helping him start getting accustomed to the new.
“See you, Jess.” he said and started for the door.
Behind him, he heard Henry say, ‘see you tonight’.
“See you.” Jess echoed.
He and Henry stepped out onto the sidewalk, waited for a break in traffic and crossed the street.
“What do you two have going on tonight?” he asked, though he could guess.
Since it was Tuesday, which meant cheap night at the movies, it was a good bet they were going to see a show.
Coffee in one hand, paper bag in the other, Henry went around the back end of the truck to the passenger side.
“We’re gonna go see that new action flick.” he replied, opening his door.
“The Last Day?” Josh asked, once they were both in the truck.
He’d figured he and Henry would go see that together, and was a little put out that they wouldn’t be.
“Yeah.” Henry confirmed, setting his coffee in one of the cup holders between them.
Josh placed his coffee in the other cup holder, pulled his danish out of the bag, took a big bite.
“Let me know if it’s any good.” he said around his mouthful, swallowing his disappointment.
“You wanna come?” Henry invited, and sunk his teeth into his cinnamon bun.
He did. But he didn’t want to impose, knew better than to invade a couple’s date.
“I don’t wanna intrude on your date.” he replied, getting stuck on the word ‘date’ as it related to his best friend and his sister.
His comfort level with Henry and Jess dating dipped down again.
Yeah. This was gonna be weird for him for a bit.
Danish in one hand, he started his truck, put it in drive and when he had an opening in the flow of cars, steered into traffic with his free hand.
“I’ll check with Jess, but I’m sure she won’t mind if we all go.” Henry announced.
“No, that’s okay.” Josh protested, but Henry ignored him.
He tucked his cinnamon bun back in the bag, licked his fingers before pulling his phone out of his pocket, and texted Jess.
It was several moments before his phone binged with a reply from her.
“She says, ‘okay, cool’.” he read. “It starts at 7:15.” he continued as he put his phone away. “I was gonna pick Jess up at 6:30. You wanna meet us there?”
Josh still felt like he was imposing, even with Jess’s ‘okay’, but he couldn’t resist joining. It would be fun, the three of them, hanging out. Like old times.
And if there were any PDA’s, he’d just make sure to avert his gaze.
He didn’t need to see that.