A Kiss Beneath the Candles

By Trey Scott and Samuel Harrisson (fictionpress dot com/u/652186/Samuel_Harrisson)

A/N: This piece originally started out as an RP with Mr. Harrisson, and turned into a great short story. Check out Sam's profile – he's got some amazing stuff. And we both appreciate comments!

It was closing time. Wiping the table for what seemed to be the fiftieth time, Michelle wondered when Ryan, her boss, would let her go. This was hell. Only the presence of Tyler, the lone waiter always around after closing, made her job tolerable. He was amazing: beautiful, intelligent, funny, and great with people. He seemed to have no flaws. "Now if only I could talk to him," Michelle thought to herself. "I wish I could be like Joanie, but I'm just a little busgirl, totally unnoticed by someone like Tyler." Joanie was always flirting with Tyler, and he would always be so cordial with her! Why couldn't she just say a quick hello? Where were her guts?

Ryan walked out of his office, balancing his gigantic beer belly, and signaled Tyler. "Yo, boss! How are ya?" Tyler asked, smiling as he did so.

"Hey Tyler! We made a lot of dough today! Damn I love the weekend! Anyways, you can go home. Oh, and, uh, Marie!" Michelle has gotten used to her boss not remembering her name. She looked up. "You're free to go, too."

She smiled and walked over to the door and opened it. It was pouring down rain outside. She always walked the three miles to and from work every day. Damn it! "Hey, Michelle right? You walk here, don't you?" She turned around, was Tyler talking to her?

"Um, yeah." Her voice was crackling, her heart racing. She was nervous.

"It's pouring out there, do ya need a ride?"

She smiled. "Uh, that would be great!"

"Well, then, let's go!"

The two scampered out towards the parking lot. It was completely empty, save for Ryan's and Tyler's cars, the latter of which they quickly ran toward. Due to her anxiousness and the rain, Michelle hastily tripped as they approached the car.

But almost as soon as she started to fall a strong hand grabbed her arm and she was able to steady herself.

"Watch your step," Tyler said in a tone of both mild amusement and concern.

Michelle felt her face go red, and was thankful that it was dark out.

"Y-yeah… thanks."

Releasing her arm, Tyler stepped up to the passenger side of the car and opened it. "Ladies first."

Michelle smiled and climbed inside. Tyler closed the door firmly after her, and in another few moments was getting into the driver's seat.

"You know," he said as he shut his own door and put the key into the ignition, "I didn't really plan on taking a swim today." He heard a grunt of annoyance in return. "What, I didn't think the joke was that bad."

"No," said Michelle quickly, at the same time removing her left shoe. "I stepped in a puddle." She turned the shoe over, and water came pouring out onto the car's floor. "Oops, sor-"

Suddenly, Tyler burst out laughing. "Michelle, you should have seen the look on you face…" She couldn't help it. She had to laugh too.

Still smiling, Tyler turned the key, backed out of the parking space, and off they went.

"You know," he responded to her silence, "I might have to know where you live."

"Oh right, sorry. Thirty-Four Hastings." She felt awkward. A superfluity of contrasting emotions was striking her from all sides of her brain. For one, she was ecstatic. She was in a car (instead of rain) with Tyler of all people!

Yet at the same time, she was scared, mentally torturing herself. She was in the car with Tyler. What if she were to say something wrong? Would he judge her? Was he judging her now? "Oh god," Michelle thought to herself, "I wish I was the unknown busgirl again."

The silence fell for a few minutes, each of the partners soaking it in. "So… when did you start working at Ryan's?"

She looked up at him. How could she say this without messing up? "Um… five years, now."

"Oh! I have been here for-"

"Three-and-a-half." She realized her mistake when she saw the look of surprise on his face. "I mean, uh, sorry."

Her self-criticism took over as the agony of another awkward silence fell over the two. "Come on, Michelle!" she berated herself mentally, "Watch your mouth! This is Tyler! Watch. Your. Mouth!"

"So… um, Michelle." She looked back up at him. Damn, he was hot. His soft brown eyes seemed to sparkle; to wink without winking. And here she was, the lone busgirl: ugly, lower in the food chain, and some god among mortals deigns her presence!

"Yeah?"

He looked at her straight in the eyes. "I have a question. Would… would you like to…" He paused, and looked back at the road taking a deep breath. He couldn't bring himself to do it. He may put on a brave face, but he wasn't nearly as confident as he wanted people to think.

"Would I like to what?" he heard Michelle whisper.

He stole a glance at her, but wasn't quite sure what her expression meant.

"Well, I mean, I see you walking home every day, and your place isn't really out of the way for me… so, if you want, I could give you a ride more often."

There was another short silence, and Tyler tried to ease the suspense by focusing solely on his driving.

"That would be nice. Thanks."

Tyler let out a silent sigh of relief. It wasn't what he had really wanted to ask, but it was a start.

They pulled up to Michelle's house a few moments later.

"Thanks again, Tyler."

"No problem. Hey, I thought I saw on the schedule that you start work tomorrow at the same time that I do. Would you like me to pick you up?"

"Oh, well, are you sure? I don't mind walking, that much…"

"Come on, why not? You can take your walks when the weather gets better - this whole week is supposed to be pretty wet."

"Well, in that case, I accept."

Tyler smiled. "Good. See you bright and early, then. Good night, Michelle."

"Good night, Tyler." Michelle got out of the car and closed the door. Once he saw that she had made it safely inside, Tyler turned the car back on and drove home, his eyes smiling the whole way.

-~-

She collapsed onto the floor right when she got in. "Did that just happen?" There was no way he was JUST going to say that!

She knew, or at least thought that he was going to ask her out! Her! A little busgirl! The clouds carried her off to bed as she closed her eyes, a smile stroking the inside of her face while she drifted off to sleep.

The next morning Michelle got ready for work… at 3 AM. She was three hours too early, but she was too nervous to just sit around and have her thoughts take over. She had to do something to keep her mind busy!

A few hours later, Tyler pulled up to her house and knocked. He had his work clothes on already, his hair slicked back in a greasy, yet beautiful way. When she opened the door his mouth dropped. "Wow. You look good!"

She giggled. "Thanks! It's not like I spent an hour or so working on it! It's my normal outfit!" She was, of course, telling the truth. She didn't spend an hour, but a few actually.

They got into the car and took off. Driving for a few minutes, the silence was astounding. "Hey, um, Michelle." She looked up at him, but this only seemed to hinder what he was trying to say.

"Hey, um Tyler… sorry." She decided, then, to never make fun of him again when she saw how it made it harder for him to speak his mind.

"Uhh. After work, you wanna go to Jacko's for some poetry and coffee?"

Whoa. This made her nervous. She always took great pleasure in knowing that she could read people, but this one time, she couldn't. Did he mean a date? Oh, how awesome that'd be!!! But what if he meant just as friends? "I mean… if you don't want to…" So it was a date! Yes! She didn't want to come off as too excited.

"Sure! That'd be great!"

-~-

That day at Ryan's it was pretty busy, so neither Tyler nor Michelle had much of an opportunity to talk. Instead they exchanged a few shy smiles throughout the day.

At his lunch break, Tyler went across the street to grab something cheap at McDonald's. As good as the restaurant food at Ryan's was, he got tired of it after awhile. Fortunately it wasn't raining, but it was still pretty cold out so he decided to eat inside.

This place was busy, too, but fortunately most people were going through the drive thru so there were some empty tables. After getting his burger and fries, Tyler took a seat in one of the booths. Pulling his food out of the slightly greasy bag, he quickly got to eating.

"Oh, Tyler, how are you?"

"Hm?" Tyler looked up. "Oh, hi Joanie."

Joanie was a coworker at Ryan's. She was a favorite among the customers because she was so outgoing, though sometimes she was a little bit too friendly and got herself into trouble. She seemed to have a thing for Tyler - she'd been flirting with him pretty much ever since she started working at the restaurant. She seemed to have a knack for figuring out where he was, and fast food chains were no exception.
"You know," Joanie said, sitting down across from Tyler without asking, "we never got to finish our conversation the other day."

He finished chewing and replied, "Oh, right. You had a question for me, correct?"

"You could say that… or, you might call it an invitation."

Tyler groaned inwardly. Was she really going to try this again? "Tyler, you wouldn't happen to be doing anything tonight, would you?"

This time, Tyler sighed with relief. He always tried to be nice to Joanie - he hated upsetting others - but this time he had an actual excuse. And maybe, just maybe, she'd take the hint.

"Actually, I do. I've got a date."

Joanie's eyes widened in surprise. "Oh, really? Might I ask…"

"Whoops, gotta go, Joanie. Lunch is almost up. See you around."

"Sure. Have fun on your date."

Tyler had been afraid that he'd feel bad for Joanie. But when he heard the venom in her voice, he was glad to have escaped her trap.

Just a few more hours, and he'd finally be on a date with Michelle.

-~-

She so wasn't ready for this. Ryan made her work the dishes the entire day, so of course she had to have frizzy hair and be covered in dirt for her date. And after sprucing herself up, too!

Working until the very end of the night, Tyler and Michelle mostly avoided each other, almost on purpose, it seemed. The only person left besides them was Joanie, who appeared to be giving Tyler an "if-looks-could-annihilate-every-cell-in-your-living-body" look.

Wiping the tables down, Michelle agonized about the night to come. "What is going to happen tonight? Are we going to kiss? Does he even mean this as a date? That's silly, he said it was! But what if I was simply dreaming? That's it. I'm dreaming. I have to be."

"Michelle." She looked up to the source of the voice and found it to be Tyler. "I heard Jacko's might be busy, do you still want to give it a shot?" She knew what he meant by it. He was giving her some outs on the date. So he was nervous too!

All of a sudden she heard a gasp. Looking over, she saw Joanie, mouth ajar, staring at the two of them. "You are taking out THAT busgirl? Don't you have any more class?" Michelle's face felt hot, embarrassed by the comment.

"Michelle has more class than you will ever have, Joanie. Besides, you may be a good coworker, but that busgirl works ten times harder and is a thousand times prettier. C'mon, let's go Michelle." With that her wrist was yanked tightly and dragged off to Tyler's car.

"Sorry about her," he spoke.

"Did you mean all that?" Michelle looked up at him in awe.

"Of course! She is a good coworker after all! Now, let's go!" And on that word, a smile was shared by the two of them as they took off for their first date.

After a few moments of silence in the car, on the way to Jacko's, Tyler started to laugh.

"What's so funny?"

"Oh, we're going to get hell from Ryan tomorrow."

"Why? Isn't Joanie the one who looked like she wanted to kill us?"

Tyler laughed even harder. "Yeah, that's true. But we still had another half-hour left on our shifts. If I'm not mistaken, that's the first time either of us have cut out early, without a good reason, in over three years."

Michelle looked perplexed for a moment, and slowly frowned. "Damn, I really could have used that extra four dollars."

"Hey, don't worry about it - I'll save you a few bucks on coffee, in a moment."

"Well, that will have to do, I suppose," Michelle replied with light-hearted sarcasm.

They made it to Jacko's shortly after. Despite Tyler's prediction, the place, while crowded, was not so full that they couldn't find decent seats. It was a little farther away from where the current reader was sleepily chanting a poem about springtime, but that meant they could talk more easily. The room was dark, only illuminated by the candles that seemed to float around the room.

As they sat down at the small two-person table, Tyler said, "I have to apologize. I sort of lied to you about something."

"Oh?"

"I don't really like coffee, much."

Michelle put up a quick smile. "That's your big lie? Well, don't feel bad. I like coffee fine, but I'll take hot chocolate over it any day."

"You don't say? You know, back in high school - I think it was my sophomore year? - I used to drink a cup of hot chocolate every single night. I was convinced the antioxidants would make me a lot healthier. I never ended up noticing a perceptible difference, though."

"Antioxidants? Wow, you were quite the health-conscious kid, weren't you?"

Tyler chuckled. "Not really. All I ever did back then was study, read, and play videogames. No exercise when I could avoid it, though I try to work out regularly, now. I still love to read, though, and I pull out my old Nintendo 64 every once in awhile."

"Really? I can understand the videogames, but I didn't take you for a scholar."

"Yeah, well, after high school was over I had to get out into the real world. Couldn't afford to go to college, so I just chugged along with my restaurant career, saving up. That's how I ended up at Ryan's."

"So are you planning on going to college, eventually, then?"

"I don't know. Part of me would like to, but I'm content with my life right now, too. It's nothing too special, and sometimes it's a bit lonely, but for now I am content." His smile was slightly sad.

Just then, as if on cue to break the silence, a waitress came to take their orders. They both ordered hot chocolate.

Michelle decided to take the subject off of what appeared to be a slightly sensitive topic. "So then, Tyler, what do you like to read?"

"Hm? Oh, I like a good fantasy or sci-fi. But my favorites are actually the classics. I'm slightly embarrassed to admit it, but my hero is Charles Dickens."

"A Dickens fan? Wow, I'm quite intimidated. I do have to say I love some of those classic books, myself, though: Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and particularly Pride and Prejudice."

"Well, of course every woman I know loves Pride and Prejudice. Admittedly I like it, myself. But the Brontë sisters' books? You have a bit of a dark side, then, huh?"

"Hey, every rose has its thorns. That's how life is."

Tyler took a sip of his hot chocolate. "Cliché, but often true."

As Michelle set down her own mug, Tyler reached out and lightly clasped her hand. She looked up, right into his eyes, as he spoke again.

"I have yet to feel your thorns, Michelle."

His voice was soft, as beautiful and mild as his eyes. But while his tone asked Michelle what her "thorns" just might be, in his eyes there was a fear of the answer to that question.

Michelle did not know what to think of his sudden vulnerability. Tyler had always seemed so confident and strong. Was that really only a façade? Why would he be so willing to let down his guard in front of her? Then she realized that opening up like this took far more bravery than acting cordial around a customer or a coworker like Joanie. He must really trust her.

The poetry reader in the front of the coffee house started a new poem*, then:

"Breeze skipping over water,
Water reflecting lights strung over the bridge,
Lights shining in your eyes."

Tyler kept his gaze fixed firmly on Michelle. She felt herself drawn into them despite herself.

"The fresh, bold feeling of something new,
As winter melts into liquid spring,
And summer takes shape and ripens alongside love."

Was she really leaning forward? Or was Tyler the one moving closer? Michelle was mesmerized. She felt like she was in a dream, moving without control, fearful to continue on and yet wanting to see what was to come.

"The petals from the flowering trees, snow for the summer,
Floating down around us…"

Their lips touched.

"…as we kiss,
Once, twice, then forever."

She didn't hear the last two lines.


* The poem is "Love Poem #148" by Sara McDermott. It ends "You aren't just my sunshine. / You are my sun."