"Maybe you should become my business partner."
That was the first sentence out of my mouth as I examined the bidding prices listed under the four bracelets at the silent auction. Apparently I had been majorly undercharging everyone for my goods and services.
Josh nudged me gently. "I wouldn't object to that," he answered lightly as he gave me his half-smile.
"Hey hey," said a familiar voice near us. We both turned to see Ms. Sullivan smiling at us, and I saw her eyes sparkle as she noticed I had my hand in the crook of Josh's elbow. "Looks like these will be a hit. If you two continue working together I bet you can come up with all kinds of possibilities." She thanked us again for our contribution and went to look at the other items.
Two hands squeezed my shoulders. I turned around to see Trista smiling at us. "These are so great." She leaned in closer to read the price lists and frowned. "I think I recognize Brandon's writing."
"Zach, you are not going to bid on these for me," we heard Audrey say sternly.
"Come on Macie! You never let me get anything for you," Zach whined as they came closer to us.
"I already have this one that you got customized for me. That's all I need."
"These guys are making me look bad," Josh commented, his blue-green eyes twinkling and his dimple showing. "I feel like I should get in on these bracelets. The money is going to a good cause too."
I chuckled. "I'm with Audrey on this one. You could always design one and I'll make it."
"You girls are no fun," Zach complained as he slung an arm around Audrey's shoulders and kissed her temple. "The point is we want to buy things for you."
"Obviously," Trista muttered and crossed her arms over her chest. "I can't believe how much stuff Brandon has given me. And he says it's just the beginning."
"Now I'm just looking worse and worse. I haven't bought Char anything," Josh mumbled and blushed.
"Better get on it, man." Zach grinned. "Chocolate seems to smooth everything over."
I laughed and squeezed Josh's arm. "Don't listen to him, Josh. I don't want or need you to buy me anything. Seriously."
"That's what she says now," Zach mock whispered to Josh and they grinned knowingly at each other. I had seen Josh grin that exact same way with Brandon a few times.
The six of us, Brandon and Trista, Zach and Audrey, and Josh and me, had become good friends since the talent show. I guess the experience had bonded all of us together. We all hung out as a group a lot of the time, going out to eat and to the movies, or hanging at each other's houses. A favorite pastime of ours was watching Zach's band practices. Sometimes Brandon played the guitar with them and Josh would accompany them on the piano.
Josh was the only person I knew that could pull off being friends with the two most popular guys in school yet still maintain his quiet, unnoticeable persona. I didn't know how he did it but hey, that's what I loved about him.
Saturday Josh and I went to the county art center, where he attended his portrait class and I headed off to the still life class. He came to see me during his breaks and even brought with him a cinnamon roll that we shared. He really liked my drawing, which was of random objects such as a vase of flowers, an antique lamp, and a handmade cushion. I had chosen to do it solely in pencil, focusing on the light and shading. It pleased me that an artist as talented as he was thought that I was good at drawing as well.
Josh had asked me the day before to spend the rest of the afternoon with him, which of course I agreed to. When we got back to his house he said he wanted to show me something. I was expecting to go to his studio but he took my hand and led me into the woods behind his house instead.
"Where are we going?" I asked him, my curiosity rising.
He looked at me and smiled his half-smile. "We're taking a nice walk through the woods."
"To where?" I raised my eyebrows at him.
Josh simply squeezed my hand and his smile grew wider. "You'll see. You'll love it. I promise."
We continued on walking through the woods, on a well-worn path that he had clearly traveled several times. Then suddenly there was a little clearing, and I saw a small grassy area that opened up to a view of a small lake. I recognized it from my favorite painting of Josh's.
"Is this…" I started as I felt Josh squeeze my hand again. My words trailed off when I saw a blanket spread out on the grass with a picnic basket sitting in the middle of it.
"Uh…Josh…" I tried again softly as I processed the scene before me. Josh smiled widely.
"I love it when you look confused," he remarked and chuckled. I scowled slightly at him as he led me into the clearing.
We sat down on the blanket, Josh making sure I was right up against him. It surprised me since we had started dating how much he liked having physical contact with me. I mean, it wasn't like he always had his hands all over me (I actually would have put a stop to that right away as I hated PDA, not matter how much I liked him). It was more like when we sat next to each other our arms were always touching, and he held my hand as much as possible. I wasn't sure if he was even consciously aware he did this, but I wasn't about to ask. I did actually like the physical contact a lot.
Josh pulled out something from the basket. "Oatmeal chocolate-chip cookies?" A corner of his mouth lifted.
I laughed as he handed the bag over to me. "Did Brandon give you these?" I took two out, giving one to Josh, as I took a huge bite out of mine.
"Yeah," Josh replied as he ate his cookie. "He said he finally remembered to tell his mom what he promised you, so when I told him you were spending the afternoon with me today he gave them to me."
We ate our lunch, enjoying the sounds and peacefulness of the nature around us. Josh would sometimes point out something eye-catching and colorful, like the way the sun's rays hit the leaves of a tree near us. I always loved it when he did this, as I felt like I was getting a glimpse into how he saw the world in colors and patterns.
Somehow in the course of the afternoon I wound up lying on my back on the blanket, my jacket under my head as a pillow, with Josh's head resting on my stomach. He was playing with one of my hands while my other hand ran through his thick hair, ruffling it up.
He turned his head suddenly to look at me. "You've changed me, Char."
I raised my eyebrows at him. "In good ways, I hope."
Josh's dimple appeared. "Yes, in good ways. I never needed to know that people knew me, or noticed me at all, and I still don't need it, but now instead of assuming people only talk to me when they want something, I figure…it might be because they want to…like you did."
I stared into Josh's blue-green eyes, loving the fact that they looked so soft and bright and were concentrating on me, and smiled gently at him, remembering how he used to leave so abruptly when I first met him. Trista's words from that time drifted back into my mind: It's just because he's quiet that no one really notices him. But someone will. And things will change for him.
"You know…when I first met you…" I started, remembering something else.
"What?" Josh asked, concern coming into his eyes when I paused. He lifted his head from my stomach and came to lie beside me, propping up his elbow and resting his head in his palm.
I shrugged and smiled sheepishly at him. "It's not a big deal now…but…you seemed to kind of freeze up whenever I touched you, or when I came near you."
"Oh that." Josh blushed and looked away for a few seconds. "I dunno…I guess I just really liked you and I thought it would be too obvious so I tried to avoid you that way." His eyes came back to mine and I felt tiny warm flips going through my chest. I reached up and put a hand around the back of his head, pulling him down for a kiss.
"By the way you've changed me too," I told him a little breathlessly a few minutes later.
"Yeah?" he asked as he nuzzled my neck.
"Yeah. I think skinny jeans aren't too bad when worn by good-looking guys."
Josh's laugh rumbled through his chest as I giggled. I hugged him tightly to me, kissing him on the cheek and remembering one more thing I had to do.
The old neighborhood cat was prowling my yard. I stepped outside to see him and he jumped up onto the fence.
"Hey you," I greeted him as I approached him. "I guess I owe you big time. This isn't much but I figured it's the least I could do." I put some cat treats next to him. He stretched languidly and sniffed at the treats before taking some in his mouth.
"Hey Char." Josh's voice drifted into the yard and I turned around to see him coming towards me, a corner of his mouth lifted.
"Hi Josh." I smiled at him as my heart beat faster at the sight of him.
"With the neighborhood cat again?" he asked as he stopped in front of the fence, smiling widely now. "What's his name?"
I shrugged. "I'm not sure. I just call him Old Man."
"Hi Old Man," Josh said to the cat and reached out to scratch his head. The cat seemed to like this and gave a head butt to his hand. "I suppose you're the reason Charlotte and I are together?"
"Yeah," I answered happily as I intertwined my fingers with Josh's and he squeezed my hand, still smiling. "Blame the neighborhood cat."
A/N: Finished! Sorry it took me so long to get this up. I had some personal stuff to take care of and then I was working really hard to tie up all the loose ends and get everything together to make it a good ending. I hope I didn't disappoint. I'm sad that this is it for Char and Josh. I got really attached to them. Thanks for all the reviews and support!