Yeah. Umm. I never know what to write in these things. So whatever.
I wandered up the hallway, switching lights on as I went. The lounge room lit up, and I wandered over to the DVD player, slipping Donnie Darko into it. I turned the TV and amp on for the surround sound system.
I was home alone. Jake was staying with some girl, and the Rents were away for the weekend. I had briefly contemplated inviting some friends over, but had decided against it, as I mostly preferred to spend time alone, and this was one of the few nights when I was the only person in the house.
When the flat screen lit up, I turned the lights back off.
I grabbed the tub of Sara Lee Hazelnut Fudge ice cream from the fridge, and settled in front of the TV with it.
I was about halfway through both the ice cream and the movie, when there was a knock at the door. I ignored it, thinking that I was maybe imagining things.
It came again. I frowned to myself, standing up and making my way to the front door. I turned the lights on in the front entrance, and opened the door, wondering who it could possibly be at ten o'clock on a Sunday night.
I caught my breath. Shay?
'Pepper.' he breathed, his eyes widening. They moved up and down my body, and suddenly I felt very self conscious in my daggy flannelette pyjama pants and a black patterned mohair sweater. My white-blonde hair was in a loose pony tail, and without any makeup, my eyelashes were light, my big brown eyes dull. I couldn't afford to let it show, though, and focused my attention on him.
Shay was my brother's closest friend. He was at ours a lot, but I rarely talked to him. When I did, it only resulted in argument. He irritated me a little, but only because he was incredibly good looking, and I knew he'd never want me. His brother Cole was in my grade at school, and on occasion, we'd had as close as you could get to relations, but without the sex.
Shay was a wreck. I hadn't realised it was raining until I'd opened the door, and he was soaked. I wondered how far he'd walked, and what his motivation had been. There were purple bags under his beautiful grey eyes. Hold up.
Beautiful? I hadn't just thought that, had I? I mentally slapped myself.
He was dripping wet, his hair hanging over his face. There was a cut on his lip, and his nails were bitten down to nothing. Which was odd. I'd never known Shay to be a nail biter. He was a deathly white, and there was absolutely no colour in his cheeks. And that was saying something, if you considered the fact that Shay was pale on a good day.
'Are you alright?' I asked, trying not to let too much concern leak through into my voice.
He swallowed, running a shaky hand through his wet hair. 'Pepper, is Jake home?'
He sounded desperate.
'No.' I responded, watching him through my fringe.
'Where is he?' His eyebrows were knotted in the middle.
'I don't know.'
'Shit.' he hissed, looking around, as though he expected someone to jump out of the bushes. What was he so anxious about?
'Shay. Are you alright?' I repeated, no longer caring whether he could hear how much I cared.
'Yes.' he said guardedly. 'I'm fine.'
He wouldn't meet my eyes now, looking down at his shoes instead.
There were holes in them. I sighed, running a hand over my face. 'Where did you come from? Just now?'
He didn't look up. 'Home.'
'And are you planning to go back there tonight?' I wondered what had happened, for him to be so agitated.
He looked up then, his eyes glassy. 'No.'
I couldn't meet his eyes, afraid that I'd be revealing what my real motivations were for saying what I was about to say. 'Look, I wouldn't normally do this, but you look pretty shitty. You can...I mean, you can, uh-Do you want to stay?'
He looked shocked. 'Uh, what?'
'Oh, um, nothing. I mean, I've sure you've got other friends, places you could go. I'm just being stupid. Why would you want to stay here anyway? Jake's not here, and it's not like we get along.' I laughed nervously, before staring stonily down at my toes. I swore to myself. I didn't like him, and I didn't want him to think I did, so why had I even asked? 'Just pretend I never said anything.'
'Pepper,' he said quietly. 'We could get along.'
What was that supposed to mean? I glanced up at him nervously through my fringe, immediately regretting it. He had to have seen the longing in my eyes.
I changed my mind then. I didn't know why I'd let him stand outside in the rain for so long. If he'd had somewhere else to go, he'd have gone there, right? I didn't care anymore, either. At least if he stayed here, I knew what he was doing, and who he was doing it with.
Not that I cared.
I grabbed his arm, and pulled him through the door. 'Just come inside.' I said decisively.
'Uh, I, uh, um...Okay.' he stuttered.
I closed the door, immediately a lot warmer, out of the cold.
He rubbed his arms, looking a bit awkward standing there in the hallway. He was dripping all over the floorboards, his jumper sticking to him.
'Do you want a shower?' I asked.
He shivered then. 'Really?'
'Yeah. I can get you some of Jake's clothes if you want.'
He bit his lip, sucking his piercing into his mouth.
I could feel myself blushing. 'Come on,' I said, turning and leading him up the hallway to the bathroom. I grabbed a towel from the hall cupboard, and wandered into Jake's room. I pulled open the drawers, grabbing a t-shirt and some trackies. I threw them, as well as the towel, into the bathroom.
Shay was standing in the hall, watching me, and looking a bit lost. I smiled, putting my hands on the small of his back and pushing him into the bathroom. 'Go on.'
After he'd closed the door, I sank down the wall opposite. My smile grew, and I was unable to come up with a reason as to why touching him like that had given me such intense butterflies.
'Shit!' I remembered my ice cream, which was probably melting by now. I rushed up the hallway, and settled in front of the TV once again, playing the movie.
I heard the water in the shower go on. The realisation that Shay was in our shower hit me abruptly. He was in our shower. Which meant that he'd taken all his clothes off.
But I wasn't going to think about that. Because why would I want to think about one of my brothers' friends naked? Especially Shay? I mean, he did have perfect hair, and beautiful eyes, and an amazing body. But that didn't mean I wanted to think about him in the shower. With all that water everywhere, dripping off him, running quickly over his skin...
I shuddered, the image strangely alluring.
No! I had to stop! I didn't even like him! Fantasizing about him in the shower wasn't going to do me any good!
The water stopped suddenly, and it dawned on me that I'd missed fifteen minutes of Donnie Darko, to think about Shay in the shower.
And now that I knew how he could affect me, the idea of being in the same house as him made me rather nervous. Which scared me a little. I didn't like Shay. I couldn't.
I heard the bathroom door open, and closed my eyes, sinking into the couch. I could pretend that I was invisible, and maybe he wouldn't even see me here, right? He'd forget all about me.
His footsteps echoed in the hallway, and I started to feel a little sick. I couldn't let it show, though. I didn't like him, so none of this mattered.
When I opened my eyes, he was standing in the doorway, drying his hair with the towel I'd given him. The t-shirt he was wearing had risen when he'd lifted his arms up, and there was a sliver of his perfectly flat stomach visible. I bit my lip.
'Uh, Pepper...Where should I put my clothes?'
He lowered the towel, and now I could see his face. He still looked incredibly washed out, but the sort of feral look was gone. I stood up, and grabbed his jeans, hanging them up in front of the heater. I found another spot for his jumper and t-shirt, before sitting back down on the lounge.
He didn't move, and the look on his face said he didn't really know what he was doing here.
'Are you gonna sit down?' I asked him, getting a bit annoyed that he had to be instructed to do anything and everything. It made me wonder why. He wasn't usually like this. Could it have been because he wasn't comfortable, or was it the same thing that had had him so shaken to begin with?
He sat right up the very end of the couch, as far away from me as possible. I pretended not to notice, and played the movie.
'Aren't your parents going to mind me being here?' he asked abruptly.
Wasn't it obvious that they weren't here? 'They're not here .' I told him, my voice monotone. 'They won't find out.'
He turned, and gave me a funny look, his eyes wide. 'You're...You're home alone?'
I nodded, wondering why it mattered.
His eyebrows creased, but I thought I saw the hint of a smile on his lips. 'So...it's just us, then?'
'Oh, no, I've got a tonne of friends over, Shay, they're just hiding in the closet.'
He obviously didn't appreciate my attempt at humour. He swallowed, looking down into his lap.
'So,' I began nervously. 'Do you want to stay?'
'You asked me that earlier.' he said.
'You never answered me.'
He looked up at me then, through his fringe. 'That would be great, if I could...That'd be really great.'
'It's settled then.' I turned back to the movie. I probably should have realised earlier that there was no point trying to watch it, with Shay sitting less than three metres away from me. I kept glancing at him out of the corner of my eye. He still looked really anxious. It was obvious that he wasn't actually watching the film, rather inspecting his nails, or staring up at the clock.
With a reluctant sigh, I got up at switched the film off, turning a light on to compensate for the fact that there was no longer a glow from the TV. I sat back down, but this time I was facing Shay.
He seemed to sense that all my attention was now on him, because he looked up at me.
Where there normally would have been a smirk, or a sneer, his face was devoid of humour, or amusement.
'Are you alright, Shay?' I asked him, for the third time. I hoped that this time, he'd answer me honestly. But I guess that was wishful thinking.
'Yes.' he said tersely.
'You can talk to me, you know.' I said, holding his eye. 'I know we don't know each other very well, and mostly the only interaction we have consists of mainly arguments, but you can talk to me about anything.'
'It's none of your business.' he looked away, clenching his jaw.
I knew that he was only trying to protect himself, and not being rude for the hell of it. 'I know, but you should talk to someone, Shay. It helps. You obviously are under a lot of stress, and vocalising these things can be beneficial.'
'Why are you doing this?'
'I don't know.' I answered, honestly.
He pursed his lips. 'Well, thank you.'
Naturally, I was shocked. 'That's-that's alright.'
I stood up, still feeling a little dazed. 'I'm going to bed.'
'Okay, but, uh, Pepper,' he began. 'Where am I sleeping?'
I hadn't thought about that. He couldn't have Mum and Dad's room, and I remembered from when I'd been in Jake's room that there hadn't been any sheets on the bed. He could sleep on the couch. 'You can have the couch?' I suggested.
He looked panic stricken.
'What is it?' I asked, confused. Then I realised. 'You don't want to be alone.'
He looked a little humiliated, but under that he was obviously relieved that he hadn't actually had to tell me that himself. He sort of bit his lip, giving me this little half nod thing.
I ran a hand through my hair. 'You can sleep on the floor in my room?'
He looked down into his lap, avoiding my eyes. 'Thanks, Pepper.'
'Come on,' I said, beckoning him to follow me. I started in the direction of my room, wondering where I could get some sheets for him.
The thunder had been loud while the movie was on, but it was a volume I could ignore. Now it was deafening, and there were lightning strikes lighting up the room. I had the feeling I knew what was going to happen next.
The lights flashed off suddenly with a hum, my predicament correct. I froze, ceasing even to breathe. 'Oh, no.' I hissed, squeezing my eyes shut. Fear coursed quickly through my veins, the encroaching darkness terrifying me.
Something touched my elbow, and I shrieked, jumping about a foot in the air.
'Pepper, it's just me.' Shay whispered. I breathed a sigh of relief, my heart rate slowing. He put his hands on my shoulders, his fingertips skimming my arms, before landing on my forearms. The gesture was strangely intimate, and I gave an involuntary shudder.
'It's fine, Pepper, you're gonna be fine.'
He nudged me forwards, and I took a hesitant step. I let out a shaky breath, finding the courage to open my eyes. He led me slowly up the hall, getting closer to me with every step. By the time we were outside my bedroom, I could feel his breath on my neck.
'We're almost there, Pip.' he said quietly. I could see the outline of my bed, and fell onto it, breathing a sigh of relief. Shay settled right on the edge of my mattress, watching me, after closing my door.
'I don't know where the sheets are, Shay.' I told him. 'And I'm not going back out there.'
'I'll be fine.'
'No, you'll freeze on the floor.' I insisted. I wasn't really sure what I was getting at. 'The heating's gone off.'
'It's alright, I-'
I cut him off. 'Shay. I've got a double bed. We'll both fit.' Even if I didn't feel anything for him, the idea of sharing a bed with him excited me. And scared me.
I heard him catch his breath.
In all honesty, I wasn't really sure this was such a good idea. I mean, to anyone else, it would look like we were together. Which couldn't be further from the truth. But there was no one to see us, so I didn't care. 'Shay, just get in.' I said, pulling the covers back.
I moved into a ball, wrapping my arms around my knees. He lay down, bending his knees and putting his hands under his head. He turned his head, to look at me.
I pulled the covers up over me, and shuffled further under them.
'Aren't you cold?' I asked.
'Well, why don't you pull the covers up, stupid?'
He did, before mimicking me, moving into a ball on his side.
'We'll get warmer quicker if we breathe under the covers.' I said, pulling the duvet up over our heads. Everything was dark.
He chuckled. 'I can't see anything.'
'Neither.' I giggled. 'But it's kind of nice, isn't it?'
'Pepper, I'm sorry.' he said.
'I don't want you to feel like you have to do this. Be nice to me. Help me.' his voice cracked.
'I do want to, Shay.' I told him. 'Otherwise I wouldn't have.'
'I believe that.' there was a hint of _ in his voice.
'Shut up!' If I'd been able to see him, I would have hit him by now. 'I'm not that horrible a person, am I?'
'No!' he chuckled. 'Of course not.'
'Thank you.' I said, my teeth chattering. This whole getting warmer thing wasn't really working. 'I'm still fucking freezing.'
'Yeah, me too.'
I giggled. 'You know, the fastest way for us to get warm is by taking all our clothes off and cuddling?'
'Was that a suggestion?'
'No!' I couldn't believe I'd even said anything. The air was so unbelievably tense.
'So why did you bring it up, then?' he asked.
'I'm beginning to wonder...' I muttered.
'Oh, just come here.' I reached forwards, and grabbed what I hoped was his hand. I shuffled closer, and pulled his arm around me. I didn't really know what had come over me, but if there was one thing I did know, it was that being so close to him made me feel amazing. But only because he was warm.
His other arm snaked around my torso, and he pulled me closer. I buried my face in his chest, frowning. 'You smell like Jake.'
His laugh rumbled through his chest. 'That's probably because I'm wearing his shirt.'
'Well, duh.' I brought my hands up and let them fall onto his chest. I could feel myself warming up now, regaining feeling in my toes. 'You're really warm, Shay.' I murmured.
'Yeah, you too, Pip.' he responded.
I felt his chin on the top of my head. I was deluding myself if I thought that I'd be able to get to sleep anytime soon. I lay there for hours in Shay's arms. I couldn't tell if he was asleep or not for a while, but when he started talking, it was pretty obvious he was.
I pulled away from just enough so that I could see his face. I'd pulled the covers back hours ago, after we'd used up most of the oxygen under the duvet, which meant that there was some moonlight that I could see his face by. He was biting down hard on his lip, his arms tensing around me. I reached up and brushed his fringe away from his eyes. Even his eyebrows were beautiful.
I couldn't understand how my opinion of him had changed so much in so little time. I'd gone from thinking we could never be friends, to fantasizing about so much more, in a few hours. I'd known he was attractive, but I'd never really looked at him. Until now at least.
'Pepper.' he whispered, his lips moving into a smile. 'Pepper, I...I...'
I suppressed giggles, covering my mouth with my hand.
'No one can...' he began. 'They can't know...Can't know that I love her—They...they can't..'
He pulled his arms tighter around me suddenly, pulling me into his side. I wondered who the things he'd said were aimed at. Certainly not me, right? I mean, it was just a coincidence that he'd said my name in the same sentence as the words 'I love her'. He couldn't love me. Could he? And even if he could, why would he?
Regardless of who he'd been talking to, I was finally able to fall asleep. I was suddenly very happy. I didn't particularly know why, but I was. Maybe because Shay was talking in his sleep. Maybe because he had his arms around me. Maybe because I was warm. I didn't know why, but I knew was helping.
I could feel myself drifting off.