Big Bang


Jules watched as he chewed on his words carefully, a thought process visibly shown by the way he drew in his bottom lip and the way his gaze seemed to settle over her shoulder. It was sort of endearing, if seen from a girl's perspective, but slightly unnerving as she was waiting for his explanation as to why he chose that particular seat across from her to brood upon.

Her stomach wasn't as patient as she was, so she carefully picked through her lunch, lifting her grapes and eyes concurrently to see if it jarred any attention from him. When he seemed even more in thought than when he first sat down, she gave up being cautious and resumed her lunch, effectively ignoring the boy sitting across from her as much as she could.

Which is why, in the midst of picking pickles out of her sandwich, his sudden voice caused her to jerk somewhat violently. The pickle flung somewhere off in the distance, but her eyes widened eyes stuck on him.

"I have a theory," he said with a smile, as if startling her lunch (though she wasn't eating it, it was her food all the same) was commonplace.

She raised an eyebrow and watched him, waiting patiently for the rest of his sentence to transpire. When he was apparently waiting for her reply, she cleared her throat and set her sandwich down. "A theory," she said, testing out his proposal. What business did he have telling her about a theory he had?

"Mhm."

Her other eyebrow joined its partner and she was more amused than annoyed. "Would you mind elaborating?"

"Well, that would entail me explaining the specifics of that theory."

"Yeah well, that's usually what 'elaborate' means."

He seemed to prolong his answer, so she went back to picking out the rest of the pickles, appearing to be unbothered by his sudden intrusion alongside his equally sudden claim. But before she took a bite of her sandwich, he leaned forward atop the table, sliding closer to her.

"It has to do with your smile," he quipped, subsequently giving her a jerk, this time in her heart.

Blinking, she put her sandwich down again and curiously looked at him. "My smile?" she asked. It wasn't everyday that a person's first words to her would include a theory about her smile. She rather found her smile a bit too wide, showing the cross bite of her teeth that neglected retainers failed to straighten. She had dimples, but she never smiled wide enough for them to show.

He nodded slowly, seeming like a teacher carefully explaining a word problem to his student. "Yes, a theory about your smile."

It was a bit strange of him to say such things, so she could only manage, "Why?"

His lips quirked a bit to the right and she suddenly had her own theory about his smile. "Well, to tell you would be kind of blasphemous. And I've yet to test the theory out, so . . ." At her bewildered look, his smile broadened. "I'll be able to tell you once I'm a hundred percent positive that my theory's all tested out."

She pouted a bit. "That's not fair."

He shrugged. "You asked me to elaborate."

Feeling a bit indignant and self-conscious, she flicked her eyes away from him. "Well, to disprove your 'theory', I'm relinquishing my smiles," she said and promptly took a large bite of her sandwich.

"Aw, come on. Smiling is such a natural process that I bet you do it without even knowing. There are probably fifty things that can get a smile out of you. You just don't notice when you do."

She felt the corners of her mouth move, so she stopped it by taking a bigger bite. After swallowing and reassuring that she was more irritated than amused, she asked, "Is that part of your theory?"

He pursed his lips.

"Why are you so interested in my smile?"

His mouthed curved softly and she wondered if this was the point where he would reveal some romantic elucidation about her and her smiles.

"Because someone has to." Yep, there it was.

She was too busy calming her palpitating heart that she didn't have to time stop him from rising out of his seat. Staring at him rather lamely, she silently asked herself Why? Why me? but couldn't find the courage to get it past her throat.

He smiled like a little boy who's been locked inside a candy shop, and she immediately found that she was beyond confused and skeptical about what exactly had transpired in the last five minutes.

"I'll see you around, Jules."

She huffed, trying not to show how surprised she was at his use of her preferred name (the only time he ever said her name no less), and popped a grape in her mouth. "I won't be smiling."

If possible, his smile stretched wider. "We'll see about that." Then he left, leaving her with a half-eaten lunch and a full head of doubt.

. . . . . . . .

After finishing her presentation, Jules waited at the front of the classroom for her teacher's remarks. She knew she did a good job on her project, and wasn't disappointed as her teacher praised her.

"Wonderful work Jules. You hit every point with copious amounts of information, and your presentation was delightful. Thank you. This is the kind of presentation I'm looking for."

Jules smiled; a little grin full of pride with a slight tilt of modesty.

As she prepared to return to her seat, she swept her eyes across the classroom and caught sight of a guy whose eyes paralleled his mouth in smile, both directed at her. She quickly caved her smile, pursing her lips as a certain subject about a theory swiftly came to mind.

But it was no good seeing that she had broadcasted her smile to the whole class.

Despite her prior good mood, Jules sulked at her desk as she wondered how he came to affect her smiling. She was so conscious of it now, and it actually felt bad to lose a smile whenever she saw his face. It had been a week, but she had an inkling that his theory was going to last much longer, especially since he hasn't spoken to her since that lunch period.

She'd been zoning out through the next person's presentation and jumped when clapping jarred her thoughts. She joined the applause and sighed.

"Alright Chase, you're up next."

Her ears quirked at his name, and she watched as he made his way up to the front, setting a presentation board on the desk in front of him. He grinned with a silliness that she was sure was for her, and she saw the twinkling in his eyes as he prepared to speak.

"My presentation is on the human capability to smile."

. . . . . . . .

He found her in the hall two days later standing at her locker talking to someone. She knew he was standing by the water fountain with a poor attempt at muting his presence in the waning crowds as students dispersed into lunch but she chose to ignore him. Instead she kept her attention towards a classmate who was currently telling her about a new restaurant that opened somewhere downtown.

". . . would you like to go with me and try it out Friday night?"

Jules smiled; a polite but reserved smile with her lips curved slightly and her dimples tucked in.

She said something else that wasn't comprehensible by Chase and then she was walking away and into the cafeteria, finding an empty table.

It wasn't long after she had settled down and was in the process of unwrapping her sandwich when Chase slid into the seat across from her. It was oddly familiar yet uncomfortable considering his debut into her life with a proposal about her mouth.

Making sure she had no ounce of mirth on her face, she peered at him. "What?"

He didn't hesitate to forgo any greeting. "You smiled at that guy."

She swallowed and replied, "So? I didn't say I was going to stop smiling around other people. Just you."

He narrowed his eyes a bit and produced a smile of his own as he leaned back. "You don't really like him, do you?"

Jules rolled her eyes and popped a grape in her mouth. "And how is any of that your business?"

His silly smile slid into something chaste. "It is my theory, isn't it?"

Chase's words provoked Jules' offense. "I don't get you. Or your theory. How come you're so intent on figuring me out?"

"Not you," he corrected. "Your smiles."

"Fine," she huffed. "Why are you so interested in my smiles? I smile just like any other person. Look." She bared her teeth in the most unattractive and unnatural way.

Chase laughed and plucked a grape from the pile. "I like your smiles, Jules."

"I don't see how liking someone's smiles merits for anything other than just that. It's not like smiles are windows to souls or something. They show a sentiment that can surely be expressed many other ways. And they're purely aesthetic," she rattled off in her annoyed logic.

"You're looking way into this, and you're wrong. Smiles tell a lot about a person."

She looked at him. "Why can't you be a normal person and just talk to me?"

"What do you call what we're doing right now?"

"Obviously not talking about normal things people talk about when they want to know more about each other. We're talking about your theory on my smiles. Do I look like some social experiment to you?"

He looked slightly guilty. Slightly. "Sorry. I don't mean to make you upset over this. I just do things in unconventional ways."

She paused in fretting over her lunch and his infuriating presence and stared at him. He looked back at her with curiosity and a knowledge he seemingly held over her. She knew absolutely nothing about this guy. She had every right to deny his chance of seeing her smiles; she could always wear a surgical mask over her mouth.

But amazingly, she wasn't going to deny him anything. She didn't know how she came to getting his attention and interest (she certainly hadn't flaunted anything his way) but she wasn't sure she was completely opposed to it. It was sort of flattering to know that someone was actually noticing something about her.

She pursed her lips and after cautious deliberation, looked at him and said, "I didn't accept his invitation."

Chase didn't grin the way that she was expecting him to: a self-righteous grin that daunted her for being correct with the words "I told you so" hanging on the slope of his lips. In fact, he didn't grin at all. He was looking at her with mild surprise, probably at her unexpected yield.

But then he did smile, a soft one telling her secrets that she wouldn't ever know.

She returned his with one of her own; a subtle quirk of her mouth to the right with her eyes crinkling in more smiles than her mouth showed.

. . . . . . . .

A month into this secretive theory, Chase let Jules in on a conjecture.

She had accepted his strange way of . . . figuring her out, even though she thought it was the most ridiculous way of getting to know a person. Thus, she let off on holding back her smiles when she was around him, but made sure she wasn't so generous of giving him a show. Somehow he made her see that she really did hold her smiles in secret, but that didn't mean she was going to allow his intrusions into her life and take those smiles away.

He caught her as she crossed the school parking lot, fighting the nippy cold allied with relentless wind. He called her name a few times, but the wind caught his voice and threw it out in the opposite direction, leaving her to ignore him as she rushed to her car with him rushing after her.

Chase startled her when he touched her shoulder after what seemed like wading through an ocean of gust. She shrieked and glared at him through the screen of her hair.

"Why are you following me? Are you interested in more than my smile now?"

"I tried getting your attention right when you left the building. I've been calling your name the whole walk across the parking lot," he defended, and her sharp look slackened.

"Oh. Sorry." After a while of awkward standing and exposed body parts getting number by the second, Jules pushed her hair away so she could properly look up at him. "What did you want?"

He grinned. "What else?" At her concentrated look, he quickly added, "If you're busy, I can just catch up with you another time."

Jules shook her head. "No, it's not that. I was just debating on whether it's safe for me to let you in my car," she said.

Chase blinked. "Excuse me?"

"It's cold," Jules explained bluntly, turning and unlocking the car door. After getting in the driver's seat she turned to him. "If we're going to be talking for a while, then I'd rather not have my nose freeze off."

"Oh."

Door open, Jules looked at Chase exasperatedly. "So are you getting in, or are you just going to stand there and talk to me through the window? Do you have somewhere to go?"

He looked a bit surprised, but shook his head. "I have work in an hour."

"Well, we can talk for however long and then you can go to work."

He shook his head again with a slight smile. "I'm taking the bus, and it doesn't exactly wait around for people."

Jules cocked her head towards the passenger seat. "I'll take you."

"No, I don't want you to go out of your way." Chase shook his head in refusal.

She rolled her eyes. "You're saying you followed me across the parking lot in this gross weather to talk about . . . my smiles, and when I offer you a warmer transportation to work and a chance to hold my ears hostage you refuse? I don't even know you. I'm giving you the benefit of the doubt here, buddy."

"Are you sure?" he asked.

Jules nodded and closed the door, signaling the end to any potential rebuttal he had.

After entering her car and buckling his seatbelt, Chase turned to her with a smile. "Thanks, Jules."

She flushed under the winter chill burning her cheeks. Desperate for something to do she turned on the engine, letting the car warm up with heat and the awkwardness she was currently feeling.

Reminding herself that she didn't have to do this, and that there must have been some other reason for offering Chase a ride, Jules cleared her throat and turned towards him. "Do you always take the bus?"

He shook his head with a laugh. "No, my brother took my car to run errands today. But when the weather's warm I like walking to work."

For the first time in this whole month, Jules found something out about Chase other than the fact that he was interested in her smiles and had a mysterious way of doing something about it.

"Oh, so your work isn't far from where you live?" The heat was warming up her toes, so Jules pulled her scarf off.

"Well, it is, but I don't mind walking. It's actually not far from school, so it's easier when I have work straight after school."

Jules nodded and changed gears. When she eased out of the traffic-y parking lot she asked, "So where do you work?"

"Downtown."

She glanced at him and saw the telltale smirk growing. She frowned. "Do you enjoy being mysterious? As much as you love your vagueness, others would like a little insight sometimes."

He seemed to think about it before shifting back in the seat and solemnly nodding. "That seems fair. Well then, ask away."

It would've been a perfect time to counterattack his weird inquisition about her life with questions of her own, but she wasn't well equipped with inquiry ammo.

Unprepared but not deterred, Jules answered, "I don't have any at the moment." She tried not to think of the implication she just gave of there being other times she'd have questions.

Chase laughed. "Well soon enough you'll know where I work. Is that good for starters? Turn left at the light."

"I guess. It's not like I'm going to grill you. Wouldn't that be awkward?"

"Not really. That way I know you're interested," he replied. Jules looked over at him and tried to find the discomfort of having Chase so close to her. She only felt overly hot and didn't know if it was the heater or her nerves.

"Well, interested in the sense of knowing that the guy kind of stalking me isn't such a weirdo."

"I'm not stalking you. Turn right."

Jules sighed. "Fine. You're not a stalker. But you are weird . . . in your attempt at knowing me." She cut him a look and added, "You are trying to get to know me, right? I'm really not part of your presentation on 'the human capability to smile?'"

Chase laughed. "You paid attention to my presentation?"

She rolled her eyes. "It was hard not to, given that you were staring at me the entire time."

"Right. Well, no, you're not part of an experiment, social or otherwise." He looked over at her and she saw for the first time that his eyes were gray. "I do want to know you. And turn left at the next light."

Jules kept her focus on the road. When they merged into their downtown area, she asked, "Why?"

"Why what?"

"Why are you using my smiles to get to know me? And why do you want to know me? We've never talked before. Ever."

"We've been going to the same schools for twelve years now."

Jules scoffed. "Oh, so that's reason enough to try to talk to me our last year of high school?"

"Maybe it took that long to sum up the courage."

His answer startled her, and she quickly looked over at him to guess at his expression, but all she saw was his turned head looking out the window. When he turned to look at her his mouth was crooked with a grin and he said, "Maybe not. But was that a romantic enough answer?"

She stared at him in some mixture of awe and scorn before curtly looking away. "You're such a jerk. Are we close to your work now?"

She didn't give Chase the satisfaction of showing him how his answer had left a hopeful expression on her face, but her anger melted away when he apologized.

"Sorry. I didn't mean it that way."

"Did you mean it?" she asked in a small voice.

When Jules dared to look over at him he gave her a vague smile. "Do you remember Valentine's Day two years ago?" he asked instead.

Jules ran her memory back to that day, and when a certain recollection came up she looked at Chase. "I got this really sweet card from someone stuffed in my locker." Her eyes narrowed and she looked back at him. "Was it you?"

Chase chuckled but shook his head. "No, it wasn't me. I don't know who did."

"Then why are you bringing it up?"

He quietly responded, "It has to do with my theory."

"What do you mea—nevermind, you're not going to tell me."

Chase hid his smile. "At least you know that much about me to be able to predict what I'd say or not say. You can pull in to this parking lot. I work at that store." He pointed towards one of the many windowed shops.

When Jules cut her engine she turned to Chase. "You're still vague and weird."

"Thanks."

"But not so much as you used to be."

He pulled on a knit cap. "Thanks again. Do you have time to check out where I work? I'm positive it'll get a smile out of you."

Jules glanced at the time and shrugged. "You're so sure about that?"

Chase smiled lopsidedly and Jules almost didn't have time to snap back from falling prey to his appeal. Chase was an attractive guy (she remembered seeing him around a few girls in school before) and his smiles applied that boyish charm to his overall appearance. "I don't think anyone who comes into this store comes out without a smile. Come on." He opened the door and got out, slinging his bookbag over his shoulder. Jules hesitated for a few moments before rewrapping her scarf around her neck and following him onto the sidewalk.

They passed by a little pet shop with the classical arrangement of puppies and kittens in the window display and Jules stopped to look. Half of the puppies were licking her hand against the glass and the other half were curled underneath their siblings' fidgety paws. She would have stayed outside in the cold staring at the small pets in fascination, but the jingling of bells caught her attention and she looked up. Chase held the door open for her with a smirk. "Are you going to come in?"

Jules' eyes widened and she slowly rose. "You work here?" she asked, pointing to the puppies as if they represented Chase's occupation.

He nodded. "I do, and it'd be better if you came in and actually petted some of these puppies before your fingers freeze off."

She hurried inside but couldn't hold the dazed expression off her face. She was a sucker for puppies and she had a feeling that their association with Chase would slacken some of her begrudging judgment against him.

Chase greeted the girl standing behind the counter and introduced Jules, who smiled politely and waved her greeting. He then brought her to the back room where puppies yapped from their cubbyholes.

Jules paused and admired the puppies that noticed their arrival and were pawing at the cages. "Aw, I can pet them?"

Chase lightly took hold of her coat arm and directed her to another room. "No, we've got little ones who are waiting to be put up for sale."

"Oh." Jules followed Chase.

True enough, once he placed a puppy in her arms she felt her reservations dispel for the moment as the puppy jumped and licked her laughed and a bright smile emerged, crinkling her eyes in merriment. Her dimples peeked and when she looked at Chase after her laughter died down her smile was still big, and it was focused on him.

. . . . . . . .

When Jules arrived home after her gleeful visit at Chase's job she sat on her bed for a while before getting up and rummaging through the top shelf of her closet. Retrieving a shoe box worn at its corners from years of thoughtful rubbing, she sat back down and sifted through the contents, nostalgia sweeping over her like a well-known blanket.

The card was simple white cardstock and the black words typed inside were simpler.

Your smiles are celebrated everyday.

It was unsigned, and to this day Jules had no hint as to who taped this onto her locker. She never got another card since then, but she didn't need another one after this.

She flipped the card closed and smoothed her fingers over the grain of the paper. A familiar smile creased up; a slow, timeless smile that held fondness and sweet in its frame. Her dimples slowly emerged as her eyes crinkled into soft curves, a romantic gesture in the way her facial features softened. It's the same, secret smile she wore each time she reads it, never failing to make her feel an ounce more important. It was a romantic smile that no person has ever had the privilege of receiving.

Then a blink and it slowly dissolved as she wondered why Chase brought it up earlier that day. She never shared the card with anyone else, so she started to doubt his denial at putting it on her locker. How could he have known about its reference to her smiles and coincidentally have his own?

As she stored the box away she thought about Chase and his theory and his apparent knowledge and interest in her valentine.

The feeling it gave her worried her.

. . . . . . . .

By the time the first snowfall blanketed the ground with footfall-indented pathways Jules had begun to get used to having Chase around. Sometimes she invited his company, but most times he came by his own volition, though never unwelcomed. She still hadn't gotten past his elusiveness but she worked around it, enjoying the sparse candidness of his sentiments. She was slowly admitting to her fond bemusement with him. It didn't hurt that his grins were plied with mischief and sweet, often in tandem.

They were leaving school and headed towards Jules car (she offered to drive him to work) when Jules stopped and stared at the sky. Chase nearly walked into her and was about to comment on her halt when a wet dot suddenly entered his vision. He blinked; his wet lashes were cool with liquid and Chase realized that the snow had begun to fall.

He turned to hurry Jules up but got caught in her expression.

Her smile was that of guileless delight; short bursts of laughter fluted their way out from her beaming mouth, punctuated by her dimpling cheeks flushed with cold and joy. Puffs of breaths came from under her red nose and her eyes twinkled in amusement when she looked up at him. Snowflakes dusted her hair like lacy petals of stars, gently falling onto her cheeks like invisible freckles and melting into her flush. Her smile was wide and as bright as her eyes, dazzling in the grey sky.

Her happiness was contagious and Chase couldn't stop from reaching out and tugging her scarf a little tighter around her neck, a small grin playing around the corners of his mouth.

Jules turned to him with her bright smile and whispered, "It's snowing."

And the snow couldn't have been brighter that evening.

. . . . . . . .

Valentine's Day came around and Jules hesitated for only a fraction of the day (she mulled over it for most of her evening prior) before she sought Chase out. The day passed by with little event and besides the elated greetings given to her by her friends in light of the day, she received no Valentine. She wasn't expecting it.

She caught up to him as he slung his bookbag into his car, reaching his car before he got in. Surprise registered on his face before he set a patient and amused expression. He leaned on the open car door, waiting for Jules to speak. She had, in fact, sought him out this time.

Her cheeks flushed and her heart raced, but she steadfastly held onto her confidence and drew out the card from her bag, holding it in front of Chase.

"How did you know about this?" she quietly demanded.

Chase stared at the card in confusion. "What is this?"

She said, "My Valentine, two years ago. I never told anyone about this. How did you know?"

His concentrated look was set on the card in front of him before he looked past the card to Jules face, staring at her for a few seconds before exhaling a long sigh.

"I saw you," he told her.

Jules' eyebrows furrowed. "What?"

"I saw you open the card and read it." He paused and Jules saw his cheeks redden. "And then I saw your smile and . . . I've never seen you smile like that before. It was beautiful, but you never smiled like that again." He glanced back at the card and smirked. "I've always wondered what was said that made you smile like that," he said almost wistfully.

He took the outstretched card and flipped it open, reading the words. He stared at it for a while before he chuckled wryly. "I guess it made you smile because it was true."

Jules felt her cheeks blaze up at this sudden admission. She took the card back and ran a finger over the words. "Then . . . what is your theory trying to prove?" she asked with hushed trepidation. Here was their big moment of truth and Jules was more scared of what Chase wouldn't say than what he would.

Chase was quiet for a while and she didn't look up at him until he spoke. "That I could find ways to get you to smile until I saw that same smile on your face again. And have that satisfaction knowing it was me who made you smile."

His smile was small yet it gave away his secrets with the slight bashful tilt of his lips. It was sad, but she saw the acute hopefulness of it mirrored in his eyes.

Jules didn't smile. She tucked her bottom lip under her teeth and held his gaze, trying to figure out what exactly it was that she felt about all of this. Somewhere deep inside her was that same hopefulness she couldn't bring herself to divulge at the moment, and her hesitation gave Chase doubt.

Chase shrugged and quirked his smile into the cheerful one Jules was used to. The unfamiliarity of his poignant smile left Jules confused and slightly dizzy with thoughts racing in her mind. But it was this careless smile that had her heart hurting. The sudden pain had her wanting to desperately get that smile out of him again, to smooth the wrinkle between his eyebrows. She wanted the Happy Chase who shook up her world in the best way possible.

"I guess it wasn't really fair to string you along this whole theory thing. But I did mean it, Jules," he said lowly after a while of Jules' silence. He cleared his throat and jiggled his keychain. "I gotta go to work."

For lack of anything to do or say she stepped aside and let him get into his car.

She watched Chase drive away and for the first time since meeting him she didn't have any urge to smile and it hurt her more than she realized it should.

. . . . . . . .

Unbeknownst to her, Jules didn't grieve for long.

She had taken her day's lunch into the library again, sitting in the back sharing space with neglected reference books librarians let sit with dust. Their library was large, and there were plenty of tables that allowed at least five chairs length between people, but Jules liked the seclusion and how the high window slanted the sunlight to always stroke the corner seat she sat at.

The corner offered her a world of silence, and she gratefully accepted it. Her avoidance of Chase went as far as this. She didn't rush out of the classroom before he could get a chance to talk to her; if he had wanted to (which he didn't, by the way he left the classroom early) she would have listened and offered her own rebuttal of his evasion.

During the first day of her solitary lunch period Jules realized what Chase told her on Valentine's day was not what she wanted to hear, but was what she needed. In her plight she made room for selfishness and decided that everyone deserved to have that certain happiness and Chase had offered it to her. She was ready to accept it, if he was still willing to give it.

It's been four days, and she wondered when the librarians would start suspecting her reasons for being here. She was presently picking pickles from her sandwich and watching the dust swirl in the sunlight around her when she heard noise coming towards her corner. The jingling of keys sounded too familiar.

She set the pickle slice on her napkin, keeping hold of her sandwich to prevent her hands from their habit of fidgeting. The thought of Chase walking here sent her heart in a spastic mess despite her calm preparation of what she'd do if the occasion ever rose (obviously she couldn't keep hiding from him for the rest of the school year).

It wasn't Chase who walked by. Peter, one of the student workers in the library, walked by but stopped when he saw Jules at her corner.

"Jules, hey," he greeted with a smile. It was friendly, warm, with the promise of charm and sweetness, but it was lost on Jules as she wished for a smirk that held amusement and the deep secret of her smiles.

"Hi Peter." When he glanced down at her lunch she smiled apologetically. "Sorry. Usually no one comes back this way during lunch and I've been here this whole week trying not to avoid a certain someone but ended up doing it and—"

Peter laughed and held up a palm to stop her. "Hey, it's alright. No one really cares as long as you're not eating on dictionaries. God knows what would happen if those dictionaries got ruined since they're used so often."

Jules relaxed and laughed along with him, grateful for his discretion. "I'm done after today, don't worry. I just needed to clear my head."

He shrugged. "No worries. I just came by to shelve this book." He scanned the shelves for the call number and after a while of searching looked behind her. "Oh, it's on the shelf behind you."

"Here, I'll shelve it," she offered. She stood and moved to grab the book.

"You sure? I don't want to disturb your lunch," Peter protested.

Jules rolled her eyes. "I wasn't even eating. Here, take this book and go so that I can eat," she said jokingly. Peter smiled and handed her the book.

"Thanks. I'll see you later. Enjoy your lunch."

Jules listened to the descent of his jingling keys as she turned to put the book back. Murmuring various numbers and letters, she looked for the spot and finally bent to place it on the shelf.

After dusting her hands of dust she turned back to her seat, only to find Chase standing at the end of the bookcase watching her. Startled, she jumped and felt her heart lurch in all directions and emotions.

"You scared me," she gasped out.

"Sorry. I heard your voice back here and followed it." His eyes were dark in the shadows as he steadily looked at her and Jules felt unnerved. It's been a week since she's heard his voice and it did something to her when she realized she's missed him.

Chase came closer and offered a tentative smile to her, though half as bright as his usual grin. "I've been looking for you all week."

"I've been . . . here." Jules shrugged and gestured to the table with her lunch. "I wanted to talk to you, but you always left right when class ended and . . . I didn't want to look in case you didn't want to see me."

He set the book he held on the table and looked sheepish as he explained. "I had some thinking to do." His smile quirked up.

Jules pitched herself forward against the back of the chair. "Chase, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to say what I said, or not say whatever last week. I just . . . it came at me so quickly and I didn't know how to handle you being so serious and—"

"Jules, whoa, slow down."

"Sorry," she muttered.

He looked at her for a long time before sighing and opening the big book on the table. He flipped through the pages before tapping one. "Have you ever heard of the big bang theory?"

Jules frowned and looked between him and what he pointed at, but she felt relief at being around this normal Chase again. "Yes."

She moved closer to him and saw the picture of the universe underneath his finger. He tapped on the picture thoughtfully. "Okay, I'm going to try to explain things again in a not quite normal, but better, way," he said and Jules couldn't help rolling her eyes at his silliness. Good to know that didn't dampen.

"The big bang theory suggests that the universe we live in today was created by an explosion of a singular point into the galaxies and planets and stars we see today. Of course, that's a myth and it takes a real astronomer to know how the universe really started, but this myth works for my analogy."

Jules looked at him in confusion. What did the universe have to do with anything? "About . . ."

"Your smiles." He turned to her and flashed her a bright grin. Her stomach flipped. "In short, this theory states that something exploded and came back together to form the universe. And my theory states that every time you smile something inside of me kinda explodes and then comes back together, only to do it again when you next smile." Despite the absurdity of his words, Chase's eyes were serious as he gazed at Jules.

She kept her eyes on the picture, stewing over the best way to respond to him. Looking up at him she asked in a hushed tone, "How long have you had this theory?"

His cheeks flushed in answer and he told her, "Since that Valentine's, two years ago. So, yeah it's been a lot of hypothetical explosions and such, but . . . they're worth it."

Jules rubbed at the aged ink on the page in thought. She could feel Chase's eyes on her so she swallowed against the lump in the back of her throat and said over the erratic thumping of her heart, "You should have told me."

"Why?"

"I would have kept my smiles on for you."

And when she finally smiled up at him he saw the beautiful smile that had caught him years ago, only this time it was bigger, fuller, and it unfolded the certainty of feelings of the girl in front of him. Her lips slowly stretched into the smile that he was sure to fall in love with, complete with the invitation of a kiss.

So, he kissed her.

Jules laughed against Chase's lips at the enthusiasm of his kiss and returned the fervor, pushing herself against him. She felt him turn slightly until she was well trapped between Chase and the table. Not like she'd want to go anywhere else at this particular moment. She's been waiting for this kiss, but knew he's been waiting longer.

She was suddenly hyperaware of her senses, from the drag of his fingers along her side, to the smell of his body wash, and when she dug her hands into his hair Chase made a noise deep in his throat that had her grateful for the table holding up her weight. But her focus was narrowly drawn to his mouth, the point that produced his quirky smiles and strange declarations, and was currently pressed against her lips in such a way that made her feel like he could easily take her breath away. In a few more minutes he probably would.

She could feel his smile through the kiss and broke away from him with a laugh. Their smiles were parallel and she felt a surge of happiness at being able to wholly share a smile with someone else. Unable to stop herself, she rose up and kissed him again, grinning at the flushed and satisfied expression on his face, knowing it was etched on her own as well.

Their smiles showed the enchantment of a newly sparked emotion, balanced between rosy cheeks and swollen lips, softened by the slant of their eyes.

"Your theory is proven," Jules concluded with a soft smile.

"I think," he replied, "I have a new one to prove."

Jules raised an eyebrow. "I'm assuming it has to do with me."

He laughed. "And your smiles, again." At her exasperated look, Chase's smile broadened. "My theory is going to prove that you have a full arsenal of smiles all waiting to shoot out, aiming for my poor heart."

"And how, pray tell, do you expect to test this theory out?" She didn't dispute the arsenal of smiles part.

Chase shrugged casually but the look in his eye said otherwise. "Easy. I can kiss them out of you."

Instead of bristling at the ridiculousness of his hypothesis, Jules' lips curled up in amusement as she regarded him in the dusty sunlight. "I'm interested in how you're going to test this theory out."

"Well then," he said in a low rumbling tone, "let's start now."

He closed in on the laughing smile of his willing subject and commenced his next theory.