"You know," Jace drawled, "when you said you wanted me to come with you to the roof to take pictures, I thought you meant of me."
Ignoring him, I squinted through the lens of my camera. Sighing, I adjusted the ISO settings. I just couldn't get the right lighting for this scene. I ripped off my sunglasses and threw them into my bag. Through my eyes, everything looked absolutely perfect, a fairytale view of the city that little girls in small towns dreamed of, but my pictures just couldn't seem to capture the life of the place. Frustrated, I ran my hand through my hair. I crouched and attempted to take another picture from a different vantage point, setting down my sack of lenses I carried everywhere.
"Mel. Come on. Look at me. Why would you want to take a picture of the tops of buildings when you could take a picture of the sexiness right here in front of you?"
I sighed again. "Jace. Stop."
"Mel," he mimicked. "Stop."
Rolling my eyes, I adjusted the zoom of my camera.
"What I don't see," he continued, "is why you would drag me all the way up here, to a dilapidated roof covered with paint, in freezing cold weather, at 7 in the freaking morning, when you won't even talk to me."
Groaning, I whirled to face him. "We don't have to talk every minute, you know. There is such a thing as silence. Some people even treasure it. Namely, me. Besides, it's your own fault that you're here. If you weren't so goddamn charming, my mom wouldn't love you, and if my mom didn't love you, she wouldn't have told me to take that 'nice' boy Jace along for protection from 'street vagabonds' when I left the house."
Jace stood, abandoning his slouched position in exchange for a slightly impatient one. "I can't help being so charming. It's not my fault that no one can resist me," he whined.
I laughed sarcastically. "You wish."
"You don't have to wish for things you already have," he countered.
"That's exactly why I said 'you wish,' idiot." He clutched his hand to his heart in mock pain and pretended to roll around on the floor. I spared him a quick glance and decided to ignore him, trying to focus on my photography. Out of the corner of my eye I could see him get up and start wandering around the roof. From a distance, I heard him chuckle manically. "Oh, God. Please tell me you haven't lost it and turned into the Joker. I would hate to have to tell Dawn that her brother turned into a clown with a hobby of killing people."
My eyes brightened as I found my photographs getting closer and closer to reality. Maybe I actually had a shot at this contest. I clicked away frantically, hoping at least one picture would turn out perfect. Jace spoke suddenly, his breath tickling my ear, "Why ssso ssseriouss?" I jumped at his closeness and turned to give him a shove, shaking my head at his silliness. A fond smile crept across my lips against my will.
His eyes twinkled as he stepped closer and closer and closer until he was standing a hair's breadth away from me. The scent of his cologne intertwined with the smell of my perfume. I inhaled sharply, my breath hitching at his discomforting closeness. "What- what are you-"
"Shhhh" he murmured. My eyes darted nervously and my tongue flicked out to wet my lips. Oh God. This was Jace- this was my oldest friend, my best friend, standing in front of me, looking delectable in his white v-neck and gray jeans. Jace, who had held my hand when I was 8 years old and my parents were getting a divorce- even though girls had cooties. Jace, who encouraged me to pursue my passion in photography even though my dad hated it and thought I would never make any money. Jace, who held me after break-ups. Jace, who brought my chocolate when I had my period, who teased me all the time but protected me from everything horrible in the world. Jace, who let me pretend I was Juliet to his Romeo when I auditioned for school plays.
"Jace. I don't-" One more inch and his rough hands would be caressing my face. Oh God. This couldn't be happening. My heart fluttered with hope. Could this actually be possible?
"Mel. What happened to silence?" he mocked, and suddenly I couldn't think anymore. I held my breath as his face drew closer and our breaths intermingled, my lungs inhaling the air he had exhaled. I waited impatiently, daring to hope, my mind whirring with possibilities I had never allowed myself to dream of.
His hands touched my face. But instead of warmed calloused fingers, I felt- I felt wet paint.
"Gotcha!" he said, gasping for breath between laughs and springing away. "Now you match the spray paint!" What the fuck had just happened? I stood absolutely still for a moment, uncomprehensive. One minute he was close to kissing me, and the next minute I found my face smeared with paint? I opened my mouth and closed it, probably looking like a gaping fish. Stunned as realization hit me, I felt an overwhelming sense of coldness, replaced quickly by anger- anger at him for playing me, and anger at myself for falling for it- for falling for him.
"That wasn't funny! Seriously. What the hell!" I screeched, my biting, frosty voice matching the weather outside.
"Oh, but it was, darling" he said, guffawing.
"You almost made my drop my camera, asshole. I bet that the kids who graffitied the Fuck You sign on the wall over there painted it knowing you were going to be here!" I gestured wildly towards the white lettering on red paint in the corner.
"But you didn't drop your camera," he replied, obviously not catching on to my poisonous, angry tone.
"But I could have!"
He smirked again, that goddamn awful smirk that made my toes curl and my heart feel warm. "But you didn't!" Was he really doing this right now? How freaking oblivious could you get? I was close to having a nuclear meltdown and he was teasing me?
"You know what, Jace? Whatever. I hope you're happy." I turned around wiping my face free of paint with my oversized coat's sleeves. Fuck. I was so stupid. I can't believe I actually thought that he- that we- I was so fucking stupid. This was Jace. Jace, with the model body and the killer smile. Jace, with the piercing blue eyes. Jace, who could have any girl he wanted because on top of looking like a supermodel, he was nice and sweet and funny. Of course he wouldn't choose me. I wore ratty coats that were 3 sizes too big for me and I carried an oversized tote bag I got at discount price. How could I have been so arrogant? Obviously Jace wouldn't choose me over the supermodels with Gucci bags and slinky black dresses who flirted with him at every party we went to. My eyes started to burn with tears. I took in deep breaths, willing myself to calm down, willing myself to forget the little bird of hope in my heart, the possibilities I had just found myself imagining, the knowledge that I was in love with my best friend and he didn't love me back. I shoved my camera in my bag and pulled my hair out of its bun, letting it cover my face. I strode towards the door rapidly, my converse slapping the pavement.
"Mel! Come on! Don't be like that!" Jace shouted after me. I heard his footsteps echo after me. His hand fell on my shoulder, and I brushed it away, turning my face away from him. If only I could brush him away from my heart so easily. "Fuck, Mel. I didn't- it was just a joke. I knew you were stressed about this photography contest and I just thought I'd lighten things up a little. Why is this such a big deal!"
"Forget it, Jace." I winced as my voice wavered, coming out more high-pitched than I had intended. His hands grabbed my shoulders and turned me around. Caught off guard, I looked up at him, surprised. Too late, I looked down and tried to hide my watery eyes, blinking rapidly and trying to calm myself. Think of flowers, I told myself. Flowers and sunshine and buttercups. Don't think of Jace and how perfect he is and how you love the way he ties his shoelaces with one knot and the way he messes up his hair when he's nervous and the way he rubs his jaw when he's thinking and the way he wears glasses when he's reading and always forgets he's wearing them and implores you to find them for him. Against my will, a tear slipped down my cheek. Shit, I thought, I'm not breaking down. Not here. Not in front of him. But my body refused to listen to the words my mind was saying, and my heart refused to listen to the things my mind was telling it.
"Mel- I- are you okay? I mean, obviously not, I just- what's wrong? Tell me!" he implored, his eyes fearfully watching me, as though I were a china doll about to shatter into a thousand pieces. Maybe I was.
"It's just- it's been a long day." I lied.
"Okay" he replied, "Now tell me the truth." I had forgotten how easily Jace saw through my lies. He unraveled them with such ease, a spider deconstructing a web.
"It's none of your business, okay? So stay out of it." He looked as though I had slapped him, stumbling backwards at my poisonous tone. His expression changed after a second from shock to anger.
"No?" I spluttered.
"No. Mel, you're my best friend. And every single time I've had a bad day, you've been there prying details out of me, and giving me advice. So shut up. You're not going to scare me away, okay? So stop trying." My hands shook as he took them in his. Why was he so perfect? He always knew exactly what to say, how to make me love him even more, how to make me happy and I hated him for it, almost as much as I loved him for it. He drew me closer to him, embracing me awkwardly as I stood, stiff as a board. I shuddered and let out a quiet sob, crumpling as tears streamed down my face.
"I don't- I-" I hiccuped, trying to speak in between sobs, trying to break free of his hug, my arms flailing, "Go away, Jace. I don't want you to see me like this." Jace just drew me in closer and rested his head on top of mine. I caved, accepting his hug as he held me together and murmured comforting words.
Eventually, my tears subsided to sniffles and hiccups. "Mel" he murmured, "Is this about a guy?" I didn't reply. "Mel. It has to be. Mel, what did the asshole do?" I stared at him blankly. "Mel. Come on. Talk to me. Whoever he is, he's an idiot, okay? He doesn't deserve you."
"No, Jace. He's charming and funny and nice and perfect and I'm the one who doesn't deserve him," I said hoarsely, staring down at my tatty Converse.
He shook his head and lifted my chin with his finger, his eyes boring a hole into my heart. "I've known you since we were 5 years old. And I can say with perfect certainty that no guy will ever deserve you, okay? How many times do we have to go through this before you start to believe me?"
I smiled wanly. Usually, I would pretend to agree with him just to get him off my case, but today was an exception in so many ways. "Come on Jace. Look at me. Just look. I appreciate you trying to cheer me up, but you don't have to lie to me, okay? I'm perfectly aware of how I look."
Jace furrowed his eyebrows. "Mel, you can't possibly think you're ugly. You-"
"No I don't think I'm ugly but I'm not exactly a perfect ten, okay? I rank a 2, maybe a 3 on good days. I'm okay with it. I've learned to deal with it. I'm not gorgeous or even average but it's alright, I can accept myself with all my flaws. My laugh sounds like a hyena and I bite my nails when I'm worried. My hair is frizzy half the time and I'm blind without my contacts so stop lying and making me out to be perfect. I'm not." The lump in my throat made a comeback.
An unreadable expression flitted across Jace's face. "Where is this coming from? Why didn't you tell me you felt this way before? Every single time you agreed with me when I said you were great, you were lying to me? Jesus, Mel, when did it become okay for us to lie to each other?"
I laughed brokenly. "Shut up, Jace. You don't understand."
"So make me understand. Be honest with me for once." I shook my head, backing away from him quickly and feeling like a deer caught in headlights.
"You can't handle honesty." He matched my steps, closing the gap between us, a thunderous look on his countenance.
"I can handle anything you throw at me, so stop assuming!"
"Fine." I punctuated bitterly, throwing up my arms in defeat. "Fine! Okay. You want me to be honest?"
"Finally, she gets it!" He clapped his hands, a sarcastic expression on his face.
"Okay. Here's honesty for you. Jace, I'm in love with you," I enunciated carefully.
"What?" Jace reeled backwards.
"I love you, Jace," I continued, putting my hand over his mouth so he couldn't speak. I needed to get this out before I lost my nerve or did something stupid like break down again. "You always joked about it, you know. Me falling in love with you. 'I know I'm irresistible' you would laugh. You were right. Happy? All those years, you were right. I fell for you. God."
He drew my hand away from his mouth. "You love me?" he questioned gently. I couldn't decipher his tone.
"Yes. And when you- when you played that trick on me…" I broke off, trying to swallow the lump in my throat. "I let myself hope. I was stupid. I'm sorry, Jace, I didn't mean to, I just- I'm so sorry. I know you don't- you don't love me back. It's okay. I- we can forget this ever happened. It's okay. I'll be fine. Don't worry. It's all right. We'll be friends. Same as always. Honesty is overrated anyways."
He stood still, blinking. I turned to open the door, but his hand pushed it closed and he leaned against it. Closing my eyes and praying for strength, I turned to face him again. "You didn't let me speak," he said to me in his low, gravelly voice. I swallowed. His eyes rested on my lips and he drew himself closer, his chest brushing my front, his face so close I could see each golden fleck in his eyes.
"What if I don't want to be friends same as always?" I gasped inaudibly as his lips brushed against mine as he spoke. I opened my mouth to ask what he meant, only to find my words swallowed by his lips as they crashed against mine. We fit against each other perfectly, two halves of a whole, mingling with each other until I wasn't sure where he ended and I began. I felt like sunlight was flowing through my veins, like everything was absolutely perfect. We paused, gasping for air.
"I love you, Mel. Everything about you. I think I've loved you my whole life. So don't you dare tell me what I feel. Don't you dare tell me to forget about this. Don't you dare tell me we can be 'just friends,' okay? I love your coat that's 3 sizes too big for you. I love your laugh and the way you bite your nails when you're nervous and your frizzy hair and how you're absolutely blind first thing in the morning." My lips stretched into a wide smile as I entangled my fingers in his and drew myself closer to him, wrapping my arms around his neck.
"Oh" I exhaled.
"Just 'oh'? Nothing else? No squealing over the amazing cuteness in that speech I just gave? No admittance of how undeniably sexy I am?"
"Well-" I grinned, "There is one thing."
"Oh yeah?" He looked so absolutely arrogant and perfect in the moment.
"Can I bribe you to be silent during photo sessions with kisses now?" I giggled.
He growled at me. "Shut up and kiss me again." So I pulled his face back down to mine (where it belonged) and lost myself in him.
/Prompt from ADoR Star-Crossed's Round 5 Challenge