A/N: One-shot written to avoid school. Please, alert me to typos, inconsistencies, etc. It's super-late and I've already caught a few of those, so I know more are lingering. I do not own Porsches (*tear*), Converse, Vans, Skechers, Corona, or any other trademarked items incorporated in the story. Enjoy!
It was just one of those nights the words in the textbooks blurred together into alphabet soup. I slammed my art textbook shut, rubbing my eyes. Damn thing put me out a hundred-fifteen bucks, and the class was boring to a level only watching water boil could match. Sure, it was a gorgeous coffee-table book, and that's what it would be next year, since the chick at the bookstore informed me this edition was going the way of the pterodactyl next semester. I don't know how Jeffries made Notre-Dame with those flying buttresses like wings of light and intricate rose windows a prosaic thing, but the man managed it, plodding ahead at a set pace. I could play the piano to the rhythm of his voice. Like the Moonlight Sonata (for you musical illiterates, that's a freaking slow beat).
"Screw this." I pushed back from the little square kitchen table and stood. Theoretically, there was a quiz tomorrow. I decided to hope it was over the first two chapters. For cripes' sake, I had a 96 in the class, and one quiz might bump me to a 95.6. Yeah. I calculated it yesterday. Sue me. Lisa and Cam said they were hitting Rico's around ten, which meant they'd be there at ten-thirty, depending on how long they made out in his car. I'd worry about my roommate and her boyfriend a lot more if he drove a suburban, but the guy tooled around in a two-seater Porsche, and he was obscenely tall. There wasn't room for anything inappropriate to happen.
I strode down the hall to my room and threw the light switch. I turned it back off a second later. The street light through the shutters provided plenty illumination for me to see the mess I was going to clean up yesterday. Pulling open my dressers, I pulled out a gauzy skirt consisting of black and ivory splotches, like I'd gone after it with a paint rag. I paired that with a black v-neck t-shirt, snug but not Spandex, and
turned to my rack of shoes. Red Converse, brown Skechers, a couple pairs of running shoes, soccer cleats, electric blue Vans, green Converse, and all-black Converse. Those last ones looked tempting. Cute with a little attitude, comfortable, and safe.
And tame. I wasn't feeling tame tonight. I was blowing off a crapload of studying to go dancing. So I turned to the heels. Come on, I'm a girl, I don't have a closetful, but I have a secret weakness for most shoes that will put me eye-level with a guy. I surveyed them now, set on a shelf in ascending order. Black peep-toe with subdued black sequins, bronze and strappy, sassy lace-up black platforms, and slim turquoise pumps I might have called demure except for the five-inch heels.
Damn it, I was wearing heels. Sassy it was. I sat on my bed and slid my feet into them, pulling the laces tight and standing. The forefoot had enough platform that it was really like wearing two-inch heels, even though these boosted me four inches to a cool six feet flat. Eye-level with any guy I'd even consider. I snorted and proceeded to the bathroom for makeup. Murphy's Law of Jacqueline's Dating Life stated every guy who showed interest in me had to be less than two inches taller. Call me picky, but in my albeit limited social life, I loved heels. And looking down at a guy as he tried to kiss me just killed anything I might have felt.
Some powder foundation, a touch of blush to accentuate decent but unimpressive cheekbones, some shimmery green eyeshadow which would hopefully tip my blue-green eyes into just green, black eyeliner, and mascara. Noticeable, but not ostentatious, or worse, desperate. I was twenty-one. Far, far away from desperation. A spritz of perfume I'd found in a little out-of-the-way shop, labeled 'French Kiss'. I laughed every time I wore it, just because of the irony. One swipe of pearly dusk-rose lipstick later, and I was out the door.
I cleared the bouncer in twelve and a half seconds. Didn't hurt my case the girl trying to get in before me already smelled like cheap wine and cigarettes. He turned her down flat and took half a glance at my driver's license, and back at me with a laugh. "Barely looks like you."
My picture was a couple years old, and showed my natural hair color, a flat brown that hadn't been seen since. "I've been told I have an addiction to hair dye."
He smirked and handed back the ID with two fingers. "It's pretty full tonight, but I have a soft spot for redheads. You're good."
I didn't have to fake my smile. "Thanks, man." He wasn't kidding. I stood against the wall for a minute, letting my eyes adjust to the darkness and strobe lights, and my ears to the noise. My feet started moving of their own accord as I recognized the song. A little step to the right, one to the left, four half-shuffles back, basic stuff. Oh man, it was gonna be a good night. Once Lisa and Cam showed, I'd know someone here (amazingly, they rarely made me feel third wheel), and could pretty much quit thinking, just let the music run my brain. I found a booth along the wall and waited.
Cam and Lisa entered, and on their heels, a couple guys built like track runners, or soccer players. I didn't pay much attention to them – how could I, with Lisa's latest hot pink fedora searing my retinas – until the one on the right tipped back his head and laughed. He looked a lot like a kid from high school, captain of the soccer team. I had no idea what Blake would be doing in Houston, since last I heard he was at school in Missouri, but I'd have to hunt him down. He and his friend disappeared into the crowd, and Lisa and Cam bee-lined my way. She was giggling, and he had something suspiciously like lip gloss under his left ear.
I rolled my eyes. "Well, now that you've exchanged saliva for the night, nice to see you."
Lisa giggled again, holding Cam's arm. A delectable shade of pink lemonade crept up his cheeks, and he shuffled. "Uh-"
I slapped his shoulder. "I only tease you because I like you. If I didn't, you would not be dating Lisa. How was the movie?"
Lisa slid into the booth, pulling Cam after her. "Jackie, it was the stupidest romcom ever." She drew out the last 'r'. "I was pissed."
"I think you owe me Braveheart and Gladiator after making me sit through that one," said Cam. He dropped an arm over her shoulders.
She made a face. "I would gladly watch both of those before seeing that one again. Who knew Gerard Butler could be so…un-tasty?"
"Come on, him opposite Megan Fox? You had to know that wouldn't be pretty," I said.
A male voice cut in from my right. "Megan Fox is an overrated tramp. I give her five more years of popularity. Max."
I looked, and lo, it was he, complete with black slacks, white dress shirt with rolled-up sleeves, and a sharp vest. "Blake Riker, looking good as always." I slid from the booth and shook his hand before pulling him into a hug. Sure, it was a typical guy-to-guy greeting, but it was a small high school we went to, and I was that girl who played on the guys' soccer team because there wasn't a girls' team. I was one of the guys.
He stepped back, looking me over. "Damn, girl. College has been good to you. You still playing?"
I shook my head at him, laughing. "Come on, what do you take me for?"
"Yeah, that was a stupid question, you still have the legs."
I kind of wanted to flush but didn't. He was the one guy who had treated me very much as a girl off-field. "And you still have the flattery. You engaged yet?"
Blake spread his hands, grinning, cobalt eyes sparkling. "You know me, ladies' man."
"In other words, you asked Rachel about three months ago." They'd been dating since junior year of high school.
"Four, but close."
The little sappy corner of my heart turned into maple syrup. "Congratulations! That's so awesome." I glanced over. Lisa and Cam were walking toward the floor, hand in hand, adorably mismatched at five-foot-four and six-three.
Blake nudged my shoulder. "So, you?"
"Single as ever. I have school and soccer as my first loves." I couldn't help smiling as Blake rolled his eyes. "Okay, so soccer and then school as a distant second."
The brown-haired guy I'd seen with Blake walked over, a Corona in each hand. He was wearing faded jeans, a soft green-and-brown plaid rolled to his elbows, and a metal shamrock choker on a leather strip.
He passed one of the bottles to Blake with a smirk. "Come on, Blake, does your fiancée know about you chatting up hot girls out-of-state?" He turned and caught my gaze with sparkling hazel eyes. They double-blinked. The smirk crumbled at the edges.
Oh shit. My stomach relocated to the soles of my shoes, and the walls of my throat closed like an airbag. I rarely drank, but I felt the urge to escape to the bar for something strong enough to burn my esophagus.
Blake snickered. "Oh, gods, the awkwardness is too much to bear. I'm sure you remember each other?"
His fingers – beautiful, capable Renaissance-angel fingers – tightened around the bottle. "What can I say, I've never gotten over that bout of foot-in-mouth disease."
"Well, that's flattering." Did my voice just emerge steady and sardonic? Act of God.
Clay Reichman, the sole person on the face of this earth I couldn't classify utterly as friend or foe, held onto his beer and looked me up and down. Slowly. Not sexually. I actually couldn't figure out his expression, which was scary. He usually had one of those mercurial expressions, constantly shifting between emotions, but always entertaining. Blank was bad. "Barely recognized you."
I fought the urge to close my eyes and click my heels three times. Yes, it was unlikely I'd be transported anywhere, but it seemed worth the risk.
Blake shot him a sideways look. "Now I'm intrigued, because I know the shock isn't just because you realized she's a girl."
I fought to keep a neutral expression. Oh hell. Clay. Clayton Lee Reichman, high school goalie, class clown, never serious, deadly when serious, heart of gold, unintentional heartbreaker. I now remembered senior year with painful clarity, particularly the first days of summer afterwards. We were the couple that never quite happened. We went on a couple dates, discreetly, but I couldn't date him. I had my flaws and massive weak areas, but I couldn't date a guy who didn't share the same faith. It would have ended badly. I didn't handle the non-breakup so well, though, leading to awkwardness at random summer soccer games and total estrangement.
It also took me a full twelve months to get over him. And now, as he looked at me, gaze lingering on my face, I realized with painful clarity I still wasn't.
In a flash, the severity vanished, giving way to the usual I'm-a-loveable-smartass smile. "Hey, I wasn't expecting to run into anyone I knew here. I thought you were at Cal Tech or something."
"Thought about it, ended up here," I said. "Better degree program and better scholarship. I graduate end of the semester."
"Same here, congrats. I just took another year when I switched majors."
I nodded as he prattled about business and media and graphic design, mind whirring. This was freakishly like normal conversation, and it felt suspicious, like mystery meat Tuesdays.
"…about you and I dance?"
My last breath caught in my throat for a second, unhooked itself, and emerged with a flattering urk sound. "Wait, sorry, what?"
He laughed. "I said how about you and I dance?" He inclined the mouth of the bottle at my feet. "Unless those shoes are too much for you."
I glanced down at them, and back up at him. His eyes positively sparked with satanic delight, like he was waiting for me to fall for it. I felt myself bristle. Subtly. Nothing changed, did it? I smiled nicely, even beatifically. You are on, you sonuvagun. "I've learned to manage them since high school." I took his beer from his hand, careful not to let skin brush skin, and set it on the table. "Blake can watch that."
Blake opened his mouth, thought better of it, and slipped into the booth. Wise man.
Clay's mouth twitched into that shit-eating grin, and he grabbed my left hand. I think his intention was to catch me off-balance, but I'd also spent the last couple years playing some basketball, and three steps later, I was right at his side. The only reason for unsteadiness was his hand firmly around mine.
He looked at me from the corner of his eye. "Damn, how high are those heels?"
"Four inches," I said, also looking sideways. Crap, he was still taller than me. I'd always pegged him at six feet flat, but now re-estimated to six-two.
He stopped somewhere in the middle of the floor precisely as the DJ announced a change of pace. He didn't let go of my hand.
"Well," I said, as the music kicked on. "This ought to be interesting." I listened for a second. "Hang on, is this-"
"Sway," Clay said. "Buble version. That calls for Argentinean tango."
My mouth dropped open a couple inches, first at the surprise he knew Buble, and second, that he apparently knew how to tango. "I have no idea how to dance that."
He quirked his mouth and tilted his head at me. "That's too bad. Salsa will work too. You know that?"
"Some, yeah." I'd danced it in these shoes, actually. "Wait, you know how to sal-"
Those gorgeous, gorgeous lips dropped into a casual smile. "There's a lot I know how to do. Now are we gonna dance?"
And so I found myself salsa dancing with Clay Reichman, who I never thought I'd see again, and, as the music reached the climax and a dramatic pause, and we met eyes, who was turning my stomach into a pot of oatmeal. He was just so…delicious. Angled jaw, cheekbones, the deliberate swoop of brown hair across his forehead, his lips…the music resumed, and I felt bone-deep thankful for the low lights, because the unbidden thoughts flashing through my head were turning my face lollipop pink.
The song ended with him spinning me, my skirt fluttering up and out (thank God for volleyball shorts), and us standing face-to-face, hands locked. The next song started, and I felt the need to move. My muscles didn't work.
"By the way," said Clay, as if we were just catching up on old times for the hell of it, "did Blake mention I'm working on my master's in theology?"
"No," I said. "Sure didn't." Was he standing closer? I think he was standing closer.
"Yeah. Had a bit of a conversion experience a couple years ago."
Years? "Wow, a lot's changed then," I said. Like everything. He was definitely standing closer. Even through the smoke and sweat in the air, I could smell him. A whiff of pine and musk.
"Yeah," he said. "Yeah, it has."
We were way too close. Inches. Not more than the height of my heels. I had to tilt my head to keep meeting his eyes, glimmering hazel and gold around the pupils.
"But I don't think everything has. Which is why I feel this is in order." He leaned in and brushed his lips against mine.
I didn't respond, and he stepped back, the first traces of uncertainty I'd seen on his face since he was a sophomore in high school, trying out for the team. "Jackie, I didn't mean to-"
"That was my first kiss," I said.
Something like horror flashed in his eyes. "Oh God, I-"
I looked at him for the first time. "All this time?"
He stilled. "Yeah." Silence. "I know it seems stupid to hang onto a high school crush, but-"
I said it half-mechanically. "I'm not really believing this is happening so you'd better kiss me again." Before I had time to blush, he took the step separating us and dropped my hands. Cupping his hands around the back of my neck, he tipped up my chin with his thumbs and our lips met and I saw stars. I dropped my arms over his shoulders and threaded my fingers through his hair, pulling him closer. Our mouths opened at the same time, and wow I'd always imagined Clay was a good kisser, but this was blasting my feeble little imagination out of the solar system. A long time later, I was legitimately running out of breath, and pulled back, and from the way he was inhaling, we were in the same predicament.
Clay blinked a few times, voice scratchy and astonished. "What the hell…"
Even though I'd been a rather enthusiastic participant, I couldn't flush. I was far past that. "You have no idea how long I've wanted to do that."
He shook his head, mouth cracked, (to my delight), hair askew. "Not that, I just wanna know how the hell have you never been kissed before?"
I shrugged. "I guess I was waiting."
Clay threw back his head and laughed. "This is the best night of my life."
I couldn't help the stupid smile across my face. "It's not half-bad, if I say so myself."
"You have no idea. To come in here and run into you in a skirt and high heels was good enough-" he caught the look on my face and grinned. "You have no idea how long I've wanted to see that. You have gorgeous legs."
Ka-pow, my face felt hotter than the sun. I rubbed the side of my face. "Oh cripes."
His eyes danced. "Jacks, you can't work up a shred of embarrassment about making out on the dance floor – no, let me rephrase that, you were proud of it, and now that I say you have exceptionally shapely legs that look damn good in heels, you start turning girly on me?"
My face was going to spontaneously combust. "What can I say, my genetics betray me now and then."
"Hey." Clay caught my chin and tilted it up. His voice dropped to sincerity, and a little velvet. "As awesome as the kick-ass Jackie Hamilton is on the soccer field, her seldom-seen twin Jacqueline is absolutely beautiful."
I blinked. A few times. I liked the sound of my full name coming from him. My voice did not emerge steady. "Cripes, Reichman."
He laughed and pulled me into a hug, and I let my eyes flutter shut, head on his shoulder. His thumb stroked my shoulder in lazy circles. "Yes, Jacqueline?"
He was silent for a long time. "No, thank you." A while later, he dropped his mouth toward my ear. "Since I sort of took your first kiss without warning, and you pretty much jumped my bones for the second, I guess I'll get around to the gentlemanly thing now and ask for the third."
I nodded into his shoulder. "About time, you jackass. I would have hated to thrown myself at you." I tilted my head back just far enough to look at him.
He grinned again – that I-am-the-devil grin. "I think I can take care of that." He began trailing kisses along my jaw until he found that spot right behind my ear I always imagined was particularly sensitive, and my eyes about rolled back in my head.
My knees started deserting me at the same moment he pulled back, coughing, drawing a hand across his lips. "Holy mother, Jacks, your perfume smells amazing, but I'm sorry, it tastes freaking horrible!"
Perfume…I slapped a hand over my mouth, giggling – giggling – like an idiot.
He made a couple gagging sounds, wiping his lips again before staring at me. "What?"
I managed a few words. "It's pretty awesome, isn't it? Stuff's called French Kiss."
The edges of his mouth curved upward. "Seriously, you don't have to make up stuff. You can just ask."
I pressed a finger to his lips and leaned in. "Slowly, Reichman, slowly. We have all the time in the world."