A.N: Although my updates have been infrequent, I hope the beginning of this chapter makes up for it. (Hint: While not explicit, this story is M for a reason…and that reason is sex…sex is the reason.)
At about three in the morning I woke to find that my bedside lamp was on and I was curled into a strong body, a hand running soothingly up and down my arm. I stretched and glanced up to find Dax sitting up and reading my copy of Orwell's '1984'.
I was impressed with his thoughtful selection, I had books and magazines lying everywhere around the room and he could of quite as easily picked up Cosmo and learnt the twenty-five most erogenous zones on his body. But no, he chose Orwell.
"Good choice." I yawned and sat up further, allowing him to pull me in closer to his chest and place his hand on my hip. I inhaled deeply and caught the scent of sweat, cologne and soap on his skin, it set off a shiver down my spine and I smiled as Dax tightened his hold around me in response.
"Mmm, I read it at school." He muttered and turned a page, shooting a smile down at me. "Thoughtcrime IS death."
I laid my head back down on his shoulder and listened to the silence of the rest of the house in contrast to his steady breaths and the sound of paper scraping against paper. It felt so comfortable, who'd have thought after a year and a half of worrying and freaking out that it could be so simple. His hand splayed out on my stomach and I let out a satisfied sigh. Could it really be this easy? I like him; he likes me and 'Boom' we're together? My extensive literary experience would say otherwise.
After a few moments struggling with whether to voice my concern, or disbelief, or whatever was giving me this weight of trepidation in my stomach, I locked my eyes on the tanned skin of his chest.
"I thought you'd be gone, by now." I said softly, staring intently at the curled and twisted black ink gracing his pectoral. It gave me a little flutter of pleasure that I was up close and personal with it again.
"Why?" he paused and I felt his eyes looking at the top of my head.
I pushed up from his chest and looked into his face. His green eyes narrowed inquiringly as they searched my face before he leant forward and placed a light peck on my lips. His stubble was slightly darker than last night and it scratched at the sensitive skin above my lip as he drew away. If only I could pause this moment, the breathless anticipation between when he kissed me and when he'd do it again, I'd be able to stop all the what-ifs that ran through my brain and simply revel in the feeling of contentment he gave me.
"That's what guys do, isn't it?" I finally asked.
He stared at me for a moment and then smiled. "Not all guys."
It was so simple and so Dax-like that I had to swallow my grin as he turned back to his book, shooting his own amused grin back at me every now and then.
The coolness in the room was making my skin break out in goose bumps, so I untangled myself from Dax and went to climb over him. He helped me off the bed, managing to get in a few stealthy strokes and caresses before my feet hit the floor lightly and I switched on the heater. I walked into the wardrobe and pulled on my abandoned sweater, walking back out and feeling the room instantly start to get warmer. Padding back over to the bed, Dax placed the book down on the table, leaving it open to his last page, and lifted the covers up as I placed my legs on either side of his hips, planning to twist onto my back. That had been the plan but his hands resting on my hips and pulling them into contact with his halted my path. I surprised myself as my breath escaped heavily when he wrapped his arms tightly around my waist.
"I will have to go eventually, though." He murmured and nuzzled into the crook of my neck "I don't think your family would appreciate it if I joined them for breakfast." He continued, the words vibrating against my skin.
"That would be a very interesting scene." I chuckled and responded lazily as he brushed his mouth over mine, pressing my tongue lightly against his. Dax smiled against my lips, pressing short tickling kisses across my cheek and down my neck, before pulling the gaping neck of my sweater down and connecting his mouth to my breast. I slapped my hand across my mouth to stop any embarrassing sounds emitting that would awaken the house. The occupants were still undisturbed; the sounds of sleeping were audible and I was praying that the placement of my room far away from everyone else was enough to hide the soft sounds that Dax and I had been trying to muffle.
"What happens now then?" I breathed, trailing my hands down his sides as he continued his ministrations. Dax lifted his head and surveyed my face, his mouth barely an inch away from mine as he spoke.
He moved his hands down to my thighs and shifted me forward, causing both of our breathing to get a little more laboured. I nodded and started to regret turning the heater on as the increase of temperature was causing me to feel lightheaded and the need to take my sweater off overcame me; it basically flew to the other side of the room. He wrapped one arm around my waist tightly, as I grasped my own hands into the curls of hair at the nape of his neck, keeping us locked in the intimate position as he free hand got to work removing his boxer briefs.
"Right now, I think you're going to show me what I've been missing for the last year and a half, so that I'll have a hard time controlling myself when your family comes over for lunch today. Then I'm going to ask you to go out to dinner with me." I don't know how Dax was still able to form coherent sentences as he had succeeded in his task and he was rocking against me deliberately. I, myself, was finding it hard to remember what his name was.
"-And if all goes well, we'll be figuring out what weekends I'm going to come up and visit you on by the end of the week." And on that note, with his mouth latched to my collarbone and my eyes closed tight in anticipation, he slid into me and from then I had trouble remembering my own name.
"Indy!" a voice broke into my very vivid recollection of last night.
"Ah! Yeah." I jumped at the vocal intrusion and turned to Violet, my arm and head stuck in the green sweater that I had chosen to wear with my tight jeans and ankle boots.
"Will you hurry up? We were supposed to be at the Sanford's ten minutes ago!" Violet stressed, looking innocently sexy in tights and a knit dress.
"They live next door, Vi." I reasoned and pulled the offending garment over my head and down my torso, straightening the seams and picking off random bits of lint. Pulling the plaid collar of my button-up shirt out from under the neck of the sweater, I folded it correctly and debated putting a necklace on as well. However, the chance of me choking when I attempted to take off my scarf at the Sanford's seemed higher with the addition of jewellery so I nixed the idea. Instead I grabbed my brush and worked at taming my honey-coloured hair into some acceptable waves that cascaded over my shoulders.
"But the Guthrie's and the Madison's are going as well and I will not let that skank Georgia sit next to Dax." With that quite passionate outburst she turned on her heels and stalked out of my room and down the stairs. I shook my head and turned back to the mirror, fixing the cuffs of my shirt before jolting at the shrill ring of my phone. Sliding it unlocked, the familiar green bubble popped up on my screen. The contact had only been added in the night before and as a result the message stood proudly and independently on my screen.
Please come and save me from the festive sweaters. Dax x
I couldn't help but grin and hastily slipped in my earrings as I ran out of my room, almost tripping down the stairs as I landed in front of my family. My father handed me my coat and gloves before pushing all of us out the door and into the chilly air. I'm not sure if it was some weird side effects of the sex or the result of an almost fifteen year crush, but the fact I would get to see Dax again, seven hours after he had ducked out of my bedroom window, made my insides go all warm and fuzzy. I'm sure every author I studied in my 19th century literature class would cringe at the description of warm and fuzzy but it was accurate and I had to try to control the grin pasted on my face, especially when my Dad asked if I had lockjaw.
After the one-minute trek, doorbell ring and our well-timed and resounding chorus of 'Merry Christmas' to Mr and Mrs Sanford, we removed the layers of clothing and entered the cosy house that bore a striking resemblance to our own.
"Well if it isn't the Townshends!" Mrs Sanford cooed, before delivering the customary compliments.
"Jack you look more like your father every time I see you! Stefanie, you are absolutely glowing; the most beautiful pregnant woman I've ever seen!" she kissed each of them on the cheek and pointed through to where the twenty-something children were all exchanging polite conversation.
"Violet and Cherry, you two always look so sophisticated."
"Oh Mrs Sanford, you are too kind." Cherry simpered, and I bit down on my lip until I couldn't hold onto the chuckle bubbling in my chest. 'You are too kind'? What was next, Eliza Doolittle? I swiftly covered my amusement with a cough and my father kindly hit me on the back to assist with the validity of my ruse.
Vi turned to me slowly and raised an eyebrow in warning, the bright smile stretching quickly across her face as she turned back to Mrs Sanford. "It's so good to see you Mrs Sanford, we have so much to catch up on. And I'd love to catch up with Dax as well."
Well played, dear sister, well played.
"There will be plenty of time for that darling. Dax is on a business call at the moment. Would you mind doing me the biggest favour and rounding everyone up for lunch?" she smiled in that way that mothers do.
"Of course." Violet grinned back at the prospect of getting on her good side and shot Cherry a triumphant look, before strutting down the hall.
"I'll help." Cherry added quickly and attempted to side step our sister into the living room. I rolled my eyes as I clearly heard them greet Georgia Guthrie with that annoying squeal that most people grow out of in high school.
Mrs Sanford turned her attention to me, reaching out her hands to clasp onto my own and looked me up and down with an affectionate gaze. Dax had inherited her dark, curled hair but, unlike her son, her eyes were a deep, dark brown that made me think of fresh-baked cookies and fabric softener. "And dear little Indy, every time I see you I swear you're getting bigger."
Well, not the most complimentary thing I've heard.
She scrunched her brows and tightened her grip. "That was not exactly what I wanted to say." She murmured slowly and I couldn't help but laugh as my parents stepped around me and walked down the hall.
"That's ok, Mrs Sanford." I smiled. It was difficult to not like Mrs Sanford, especially when she had imbibed in a little bit too much eggnog. Our close proximity allowed me to be privy to her drink of choice.
"You're looking lovely." She nodded and stepped back with a grin.
"Thank you." I returned and went to follow my parents.
"Would you do me a favour, sweetie? Go tell my son to stop being antisocial and join us for lunch." She turned and walked down the hall without giving me an opportunity to respond, leaving me alone in the deserted hallway staring up at the staircase.
I looked around for someone to pass the job onto so as not to cause suspicion, but finding none and hearing the noise of merry making down the hall, decided to take my chances. My mother and Mrs Sanford had a very similar taste in decorating with comfort and colour scheme being the main influences; while my mother steered towards deep burgundy's, Mrs Sanford was a cream and navy woman. The walls framing the staircase were peppered with family photo's delivering a visual timeline of cute baby Dax all the way up to smoking hot adult Dax. I arrived at his door, after momentarily taking in the photos, and tapped lightly on the hard wood surface.
"Come in." Dax's smooth voice resounded out to the hall and I complied, turning the knob and stepping in to see him framed by his bay windows that looked across to my room, the phone up to his ear.
His eyes widened slightly when he saw me before he grinned and motioned me forward. "I gotta go, Tom. I'll call you later about the materials." He hung up and threw the phone on his bed, right next to my copy of 1984 that he had pocketed as he left my bedroom early that morning.
"Hey." He offered smoothly and walked right into my personal bubble, something I had no problem with.
"Your mom sent me up to get you. Everyone is here." I smiled as he leant around me and closed the door, his hand brushing against mine as he retracted and I allowed myself a moment to enjoy the warmth that spread out through my body.
"Yeah?" he murmured and tilted his head down so that we were staring straight at each other, his mouth turned up slightly and I tried to quell my own amusement. All the issues with my sisters and the uncertainty of whether Dax was just saying all the right things to have a complacent hook up for the holidays faded very quickly when he was in such close proximity.
"Yup." I returned and averted my eyes down to his sweater, which looked very soft and just begging for someone to run their hands up it. I looked back up into the striking forest shade of his eyes, before he lowered his gaze slightly and leant his head further in until-
"Let's go then." He smiled and grabbed my hand.
"Wait." I placed my hand against the door and wiggled my fingers out of his grip. "I don't think I'm ready to, you know-"
"Let people know about us?" he finished, his eyebrows rose slowly and I didn't know if that was a good or bad sign.
"Yeah. Sorry." I offered lamely. How could I say that it was way too soon? This- him- was what I had wanted for so long and I never imagined that it would be so quick and simple to be together. Wasn't there usually some mistaken identity or entertaining hijinks before we gave in and admitted our feelings? The latter possibly occurring at an airport, in a letter or in the middle of a snowy street in my underwear?
"Indy." He chuckled, propping his arm against the door. "I get it."
"I just want-" What was it I wanted?
"Time." He finished, his eyebrow quirked as though it was the most obvious answer in the world.
"Yeah." I sighed. If word got out about Dax and I my quiet Christmas holiday would be disrupted with family lunches, coffee and brunches. Any time we were in public a neighbour would give a full report to our parents and we could forget about the privacy my room afforded us; hot chocolates in the family room with a good 6 inches in between us would be the most intimate we would be able to get.
"I want that as well." He slid his palms down the door, his head dropping to focus on the minimal space between us, but even then I could hear his voice, deep and clear, the sound sending a warm buzz through my veins. "I want to enjoy just you and me for a while. You don't have to say sorry."
"That's okay with you?" I asked, dropping my head down on his shoulder and basking in the simple feeling of his cheek nuzzling against mine. After last night, it was clear that any boundary between me and Dax had been broken down and it was really hard not to just give in to the lust and attraction I felt and show him just how 'okay' it was that he wanted to enjoy me. But time was passing and very soon people would be wondering where we were and why it was taking so long to simply tell Dax that lunch was ready. It'd be just my luck if one of the twins came up and found us more tangled than a fisherman's knot.
"You still going to dinner with me tonight?"
My cheeks stretched with an uncontrollable grin and I lifted my head to find his nose touching mine, his smile a lot more under control than I could manage. "How are we going to have dinner when we can't go in public?"
In the early morning darkness, my skin prickling in the cold and his mouth planted against mine, it had seemed the most natural thing in the world for Dax to ask me to dinner and for me to accept. Even if he hadn't been straddling my windowsill with his hoodie on inside out, I'd waited a year and a half just to get a glance of his forest green eyes; dinner was like the fricking treasure of Smaug
"Leave it with me." He curled his arm around me and unlocked the door, swinging it towards us and causing me to press up against his hard body before I could weasel my way under his arm. Smart man this one.
"Then yes." I relented, walking out the door and feeling the coolness of the hallway as opposed to the warmth that seemed to surround me when Dax was in the vicinity. I had to be more careful, we'd be caught in a second if I couldn't get this under control… this is the problem with being a well-mannered teenager, all those hormones had built up in my system and I was basically a horny Chatterley, Bovary, Fanny Hill amalgamation stuck in a twenty-four year old's body.
"Then I'm okay with it." He mimicked.
I chuckled and went to walk down the stairs.
"This should be interesting." His voice travelled down the hallway with a resounding boom. Maybe I wouldn't be the one who had to rein it in?
"What?" I whispered back, hurrying back up the staircase. I listened out for anything downstairs but all I heard was muffled laughter and chatter broken up by the clinking of glasses.
His voice was an amused whisper as he swerved around me hopping down one step and leaning back on the blank space between a picture of Dax sawing a piece of wood circa 2013 and Dax throwing a football at the camera circa 2009. "I've waited a year and half to touch you again, we have an awesome reunion last night and now you walk into my house looking like sex on legs and I have to control myself."
…Jesus. I was definitely not the weak link here.
"I'm wearing jeans and a sweater." I reasoned but, in all honesty, so was he and I was dealing with issues of self-control myself.
"You're you." He shrugged, his crossed arms sliding up and down his chest.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"It wouldn't matter what you were wearing, I'd still find you gorgeous." His voice was as low as Cathy Ames morals and as smooth as Dorian Grey's skin.
Just for a moment I ignored the niggling in my brain that told me we had definitely been up here too long and that the first floor of Dax's house was filled full of people who enjoyed knowing too much about our lives.
I stepped down one step so we were eye to eye, grasping the material of his sweater and pulling him towards me. His sweater was just as soft as I thought as I pressed my lips to his and allowed him to reciprocate for just a moment before I pulled away with a grin. Okay, we were equally weak links in a rusted, old, broken chain.
"I consider that a challenge." I murmured and side stepped him, skipping down the stairs lightly.
When we reached the dining room- an amicable distance away from each other- I hazarded a guess that Cherry and Vi had influenced the seating plan in some way as the only available spaces was either between them or across the table between my parents. I refrained from arching an O'Harian brow and slid in between my parents without complaint.
I decided to act as I always did at neighbourhood lunches; eating way too much and speaking only when spoken to, making sure to lift my head every now and then to smile or laugh appreciatively at some joke. I mean, I was essentially in the same position as all those other times except for the fact that I was probably walking a little bit funny due to engaging in some pretty fun activities with the neighbour across from me. Said neighbour passed me the bread rolls as if he hadn't had his tongue in my mouth just a few minutes ago as his mother started to talk about how Pinterest had changed her whole approach to Christmas decoration…yep.
I piled my plate high with turkey casserole, sweet potato mash, green beans, brussel sprouts and a spoonful of the wide variety of warm salads that weighed down the table. My mother reached across me and wrenched a dinner roll out of my dad's hand, almost knocking me out in the process, and after her attention was taken by Mrs Madison's loud conversation about her appendix bursting that summer, I slipped my own roll off my plate and into my dad's lap earning an appreciative kiss on my cheek and a cheerful glance from my dad.
Even though I usually felt uncomfortable surrounded by so many family friends, whose main joy in life was bringing up embarrassing moments from their kids pasts, it was nice to know that some things didn't change in the bosom of my family. Like my mother's insistence that my dad cut down on carbs, my dad's reliance on his children to smuggle said contraband for him and my own enjoyment in re-enacting 'The Great Escape' with baked goods. I dug into the feast before me and scanned the table, all up there were five families all either next door or across the street from the Sanford's. The Guthries were directly across the road from us consisting of Mr and Mrs Guthrie and their daughter Georgia. The Madison's were the neighbours on the other side of the Sanfords and Ms Madison and her sons Jerry, Ash and Harrison were present at the end of the table. Mr and Mrs Clarke and the latest return to town, Penny, represented the Clarkes as Oliver was at a friend's house and Lulu had been called away to do last minute future-daughter-in-law duties with the Drakes. Dax had been right; there definitely was a surplus of Christmas Sweaters.
I made sure not to rest my gaze on him for fear that one wrong look would give me away, but I could feel his eyes on me as keenly as his hand had gripped my thigh the night before. So instead I concentrated on the patterns of Mrs Sanford's china as if it was the lyrical stylings of Oscar Wilde.
"So, Indy." Georgia interjected into the conversation, as if I'd been a part of her conversation from the very beginning. I looked up from my turkey casserole and tried to ignore the big gloop of mascara stuck in the corner of her eye.
"Yah." I returned warily, spinning my fork in the remnants of Ms Madison's warm pasta salad.
"How is university going? Do you know what you're going to do when you graduate?" she tilted her head, to the side and smiled benignly. Georgia was the quintessential Mrs Cadwallader of town and made it her business to know everyone else's business. I prepared myself to deliver my annual 'Indy Update' – specifically designed so as not to incite interest or intrigue into what I was doing with my life.
"Indy made the Dean's list this semester." My mom interjected and was met with an appreciative 'Ah' from the rest of the table.
"Again." My dad added proudly and clapped me on the shoulder. I smiled tightly, it's not that I wasn't proud of my achievements; I'm just not one to broadcast them across the neighbourhood table. They jumped to conclusions.
Good marks = No social life.
No social Life = No boyfriend.
No boyfriend = Lesbian.
Lesbian = A lifetime of conversations discussing turtlenecks, Ellen and the benefits of a well-designed hiking boot with normally conservative neighbours who wanted to show just how 'okay' they were with my life choices.
I'd rather be a mystery then reduced to a stereotype.
"It's going well." I added to my parents glowing report and turned back to my meal. "I'm not sure what I'm going to do yet." I added carelessly.
"But when do you graduate?" Georgia continued. Georgia Guthrie, ladies and gentlemen, the wannabe Sherlock of Westlake St.
"In 6 months." I nodded, attempting once again to mouth a forkful of Ms Madison's warm tomato salad.
"That's not far off." Georgia frowned. "What will you do then?"
"I think a better question, Georgie, is what can she do with a Master's in English." Cherry piped in, pursing her lips in amusement while twirling her fork through the miniscule amount of food on her plate.
"Cerise." My dad warned and I became very tempted to fling my fork of squashed roasted tomatoes in her direction.
Instead I placed my fork down and turned my eye on Georgia, unfurling the spiel that I delivered to my 'Popular Fiction' lecturer. "I'm considering starting my PHD, if I get a supervisor, which means I'll write my thesis."
It was definitely a possibility, one that I was thinking seriously about with my marks the way they were. But I didn't know if I wanted to dedicate so many years to such a small subject, just like I didn't know if I wanted to teach, I didn't know if I wanted to write or research or any of the million other options I had in front of me. Couldn't I just exist for a little bit without having to have everything planned out?
"What would the thesis be about?" Dax asked, allowing me to turn my stare on to him and noticing the slightest turn up at the corner of his mouth. The mouth I had kissed less than an hour ago.
"How the role of romance as a driver of plot in women's fiction has changed throughout history." I replied, watching some people's eyes glaze over as they tried to maintain looks of interest. Dax nodded along politely with those who still managed to keep up with me but I knew that they weren't looking at my mouth the way he was. I quirked an eyebrow in warning to him and he averted his eyes down to his plate, his smirk implying he regretted nothing.
"Our Indy, the little romantic." My mom crooned and I lowered my gaze down to the table. If only she knew.
"She's a glutton for punishment." Cherry scoffed. "I don't envy you the slightest, Indy, fifteen thousand words for a Master's project and you don't even get paid for your hard work. At least when I write a concept proposal it shows in my pay check." Her scarlet lips curled into a perfect smile as the table tittered along.
"That's right." Georgia simpered, her attention drawn to my sister. "What campaign are you working on now?"
And just like that with a well placed 'Cherry Dig and Drop' (Patent Pending), Cherry managed to steer the conversation back on to her. Not that I really cared, at least I could finish my lukewarm food now. Lunch continued more or less like that; updates from the all those in attendance with a quick detour back to Vi and Cherry followed by apologies for those who were unable to make it. The fathers relocated to the garage to discuss sports, cars and prostate exams, the mothers 'cleaning' in the kitchen as a cover for their endless gossip and- after a few clever individuals (Jack, Stef, and Jerry) escaped due to 'previous commitments'- the adult children made an exodus to the lounge for hot chocolate and Irish coffee around the fire. Situating themselves on the couch, Cherry and Vi managed to, once again, contain Dax between them.
I situated myself right near the fire, balancing my mug on the brick mouth of the hearth, like I had when we were kids, and tucking my feet underneath me. The Sanford's literary collection mostly consisted of Mrs Sanford's careful selection of Oprah's Book Club novels, but there was always a nice collection of classics hidden in the fray. Running my fingers along the books on the shelf, I caught sight of Dickens' name and slid it out of its place.
I'd read ' A Christmas Carol' more times than I could count but there was always something so satisfying about reading it at the appropriate time of year. I stole a glance over to the couch and the actions of my sisters; they're flirting was probably incredibly subtle and appropriate but to me it seemed cartoonish and overtop, every hair flick and crossed leg seemed equal to a straddle or an intimate caress and I couldn't help but feel a pinch of jealousy in my stomach at the thought that Dax might prefer a more worldly and womanly Townshend sister.
"Indy." A gruff voice interrupted my nails clutching into the leather front cover of Scrooge's redemption and I looked up.
"Harrison." I returned with a smile. Harrison Madison had the unfortunate affliction of a rhyming name and a pleasant, happy sounding one at that. This may have been the reason for his dabbling in the 'Emo' fad when we were teenagers and the consequential fashion and life choices made him a perfect addition to our little group. These days, however, his long, dyed, black and green hair had been returned to a normal dusty brown mop and his brown eyes were devoid of Maybelline Define-A-Line.
"You coming on Sunday?" he asked, dropping to the ground beside me and pulling a flask from his pocket. He held it under my nose and when I smelt the intoxicating scent of coconut rum I hastily assented to him dumping half of the contents in my hot chocolate.
"Of course" I clinked my innocent mug against the sharp metal of his flask and took a sip.
"How have you been?" Harrison had had a bit of a crush on me when we were teens; my knowledge of Edgar Allan Poe and the Brontes' apparently made me very desirable to brooding teenage boys. He grew out of it quickly – possibly due to my equal appreciation for Austen and J.K. Rowling- and, like most teenage crushes had been able to transfer those emotions back into a friendship. From my casual Facebook stalking and group messaging I was under the impression that he was in the early stages of a relationship with a girl he'd met at college.
"Good." He grinned, shooting a glance over to the kitchen in case his mother decided to make an appearance before swigging the flask. "I'm taking over the family business."
"No!" I flicked my wrist at his stomach and hit the slight padding that seemed to accompany content, loved up, baked good-imbibing twenty-something year old men. It was surprising that Harrison was taking over the business from his Grandfather, yeah he was probably the most qualified in business and practice than his brothers, but I'd always assumed that Jerry, the eldest, would step up to the plate.
"Yeah." He shrugged modestly but the barely contained stretching at the corners of his mouth hinted at his delight.
"Congratulations." I grabbed the scratchy material of his reindeer-decked sweater and hauled him in for a one-armed hug. We clinked our drinks together again and I leant back, unfolding my legs in front of me and watching his attention become drawn to the floral pattern that graced the side of the rich brown leather. "You're a hometown success." I grinned, tapping the high heel on his thigh as he rolled his eyes.
"Yeah, if you think touching people's feet all the time is the pinnacle of success."
"Knowing you? Yeah, it is."
"You got me. Do I spy my handiwork there?" He grabbed my foot and pulled me closer, inspecting the intricate detailing of my leather boot. The fact that Madison Shoes were still in business after thirty-five years was a testament to the families in town, everyone knew you got your winter shoes, hiking boots and school shoes from Madison's and Harrison had been knocking shoes together before, during and after his brush with the macabre.
"They've done me good these last few years." I mused as he flexed and pointed my foot to survey his craftsmanship. I offered the other shoe for his review, smirking at his tutting and nodding as he saw how the boots- despite a little weathering and aging- were in perfect condition.
"Man, I can make a good shoe."
"Like a little determined elf, you are." He relinquished my foot but rested his hand in the gap between my shins. The gesture was familiar and innocent, without a hint of undertone or meaning, just two friends hanging out and reconciling the past, present and future…not according to my sister though.
"God, get a room you two." Cherry called out from the couch and I felt my smile falter. She was practically trying to straddle Dax – something I'd already achieved last night- and I needed to get a room? I felt my lips curl and prepared to mutter something truly heinous under my breath when Harrison simply raised his flask to my sister and turned back to me with an eye roll.
"Aaaaaanyway," I shot one final look at my sister's who had turned back to their task, a task who was focusing on the fireplace that I just so happened to be placed in front of. "You know Sadie is bringing her girlfriend on Sunday?"
Sadie rounded out our ragtag group from high school and had had the most potential to be popular out of all of us. Lulu 's conversations were basically equations, Marcus was on the wrong side of chubby until he was fifteen, Harrison dressed like a Tim Burton character and half my grade hadn't known what the bottom of my face looked like until 10th grade because it was always behind a book (Apparently a lot of people had expected my nose to be bigger). Sadie, on the other hand, looked like a model for Abercrombie and Fitch; her brown hair was long and curled, her eyes brown and bright and her body long, tanned and athletic. She could have risen to the ranks of the cheerleaders but instead, when she transferred in the middle of 9th grade, she'd sashayed her mini-skirted self over to our table, slammed her tray down and asked whether we knew female kangaroos had three vaginas. From that moment on she'd been the crazy glue that held us all together, the wild child that had dragged us out of our comfort zones and had no qualms with being loud, brash and hilarious.
"What!?" A year into our friendship, Sadie had confided in us that she liked girls, a fact that had gone down smoothly with our friendship group but looked to be rocky territory with her family. "She told her parents?"
"Oh yeah, early Christmas present finding out your daughter's roommate is a whole lot more than that." Harrison smirked and took a swig of his flask; drawing it away from his mouth he turned it upside down to find it was empty. His subsequent frown was amusing and I handed him my half-full mug in consolation.
"How'd they take it?" I asked as he took a sip before passing t back, pocketing the empty flask in his jeans and leaning back on the carpet.
Harrison shrugged. "A little shocked at first, but it's Sadie."
That seemed to be explanation enough. Sadie delighted in doing things against the grain and the fact that she was in a serious committed relationship with her roommate Lydia could only be looked upon as a positive when you looked at her track record. Underneath her fashionable clothes she had quite a few privately placed tattoos with some very interesting backstories and even though she'd settled on the natural brown locks of her youth, she'd flicked every shade of natural and unnatural colour over her shoulders during the last couple of years. So, having a serious girlfriend? Not really registering on the Richter scale.
"I think they were more upset that it was a secret for so long. I'm not sure if it'll last." Harrison shrugged and I recoiled at his casual dismissal of our friend's relationship.
"Oh?" I quirked an eyebrow and he grinned warily in response. I guess he'd forgotten whom he was talking to; Sadie and I may not have had the relationship I shared with Lulu but when it came to the group dynamic it was ovaries before brovaries every single time.
"It doesn't show much confidence in the relationship in the first place if you feel the need to be all secretive about it." He replied carefully and I couldn't help but steal a glance over to Dax. He'd managed to slide himself out from between the twins and was chatting with Ash, his back to me as he leant casually in the doorway. It was a nice angle to look at.
I shrugged as carelessly as I could; this conversation was becoming way too close to my own issues. "I don't know, if you make it public too soon you kind of lose ownership, people feel like they have some say in it." I looked up at Harrison to see him surveying me closely.
"You know this from experience?" He probed, tilting his head teasingly.
Keep it together Indy.
I smiled and took a slow casual sip of my drink in contrast to the quickening beat of my heart. "I know this from theoretical research." I returned pointedly, offering my cup and motioning that he could finish it.
"Ah yes, Indy Townshend walking library."
"And don't you forget it." I hit his leg again and allowed us to lapse into comfortable silence, Harrison drinking my spiked hot chocolate and tapping away on his phone as I flicked through the introductory pages of Ebenezer Scrooges tale of redemption.
The words were familiar and I only gave them half my attention as I thought over what Harrison had said. Were cracks already going to appear in Dax and my relationship because I wanted to keep it private? If the twin's plan wasn't reason enough, the physical and historical closeness of our families was. I didn't need my mom asking about my relationship with Dax and then running over to his mother so they could compare notes. I didn't want the twins to think that I had secretly entered the competition and for them to up their efforts in the hope of getting another thing over me and I wanted Dax to know me for me, not how my parents or my family or the rest of the town saw me. When I was with him I didn't feel like bookish, braniac Indigo Townshend; I was just Indy.
"What's up with Vi and Cher?" Harrison interrupted my musing and I looked over to where the twins were sitting on the couch, Vi staring at phone in boredom and Cherry smiling and nodding benignly at whatever Penny Clarke was saying.
"What do you mean?"
"They were all over Dax like a cheap suit." I chuckled humourlessly, my attention flitting between the couch and Dax at the doorway. Even now the twins were acting purely to attract Dax. They'd come on strong and it hadn't worked so this was them biding their time and working out a new strategy. Sometimes I felt their talents could be put to better use in the military rather than public relations and advertising. Then it occurred to me that they might take over a few small countries and become dictators and that would not be good.
I smiled and snorted a little too forcefully. "Yeah…they have a newfound interest."
"Both of them?" His eyebrows shot to his hairline as his mouth twisted into a goofy smile.
"As it would appear." I deadpanned, turning back to my book and turning the page that I hadn't even started yet.
"Shit." His voice was full of wonder and it sent a tremor of annoyance through me.
"What?" I sighed and looked up to find Harrison shaking his head mirthlessly. Even after his short infatuation with me, Harrison had fallen under the same spell my sisters had over the majority of boys at our high school. Vi and Cherry epitomised the 'Girl next door' fantasy and still left a few very happily married or coupled men starry-eyed when they deigned to return home.
"Lucky asshole, I wonder which one he'll go for." He turned to look at my sisters and tilted his head from side to side as if doing a Lulu and weighing up the pros and cons for each twin. I noticed he was spending a considerable amount of time looking back and forth just below their collarbones. Men.
"Who says he'll go for either?" I reasoned, my stomach twisting in displeasure at the following chuckle of disbelief.
"Indy, it's Vi and Cherry. No guy in his right mind would say no to them." He chortled again and downed the remaining dregs of rum and Swiss miss. With that I heard my mother's voice recalling her troops so we could brave the cold outside for our very short trek home. I gave Harrison a half-hearted hug, trying not to hold against him something that was only common knowledge among the twenty-something males of our community, and pushed myself up from the ground. I followed Vi and Cherry out of the room with Dax close on our trail at his mother's insistence he say goodbye to his guests.
As we walked down the hallway I felt him grip my hips lightly and manoeuvre around me, murmuring an insincere 'excuse me' for show. The hallway wasn't that small but I kept my amused smile to myself as he continued around the twins. Despite the lingering brush of his thumbs down my back it had looked innocent enough, but it had reminded me of other times he'd touched those panes of skin and I knew what it meant: 'See you later'. Dax grabbed Vi's leather-panelled coat and passed it to her as she sauntered to stop right in front of him.
"Dax, some of us are going to get a drink tonight. You know, a mini class reunion. Can you believe it's been 8 years out of High School?" She shook her head ruefully and pressed her chest forward as she manoeuvred her arms into the sleeves of her coat.
"Some people haven't changed." Cherry grimaced at her twin before shooting a blinding smile at Dax as he passed her her light blue coat; some of the faux fur trim moulting onto his sweater. Even when she wasn't trying she still managed to get all over him.
"Some people don't have to." He returned cryptically and I shook my head incredulously, using my task of putting on my gloves to hide my smile. For someone who'd just agreed to keep our relationship secret he sure was trying to make me lose it.
"It's tonight at 8, me and Cherry could take you, if you want."
"I would love to girls, but I can't."
"Don't tell me you have a hot date." Cherry joked and that was all it was, a joke. Competition didn't compute with Cher- unless it was Vi- she wasn't used to losing and I don't think she'd ever go down without a fight.
"No. Just work." He sighed and I noticed that his mouth turned down just a little too much to be genuine. He handed me my jacket, his thumb brushing down the side of my own slowly as he smiled softly at the girls, although I'm sure a little bit of that was for me as well. I would definitely have to bring up the thing about me being 'work' though.
"Well that's terrible." Vi pouted.
"Not really." He shrugged, his mouth spreading in a humoured grin. "Not when you like it as much as I do." I turned and focussed on the dark, stormy, navy colour above his door. Keep it together Indy. I had had to develop considerable self-control over the last couple hours and despite the hidden smiles and prolonged eye contact I decided that lunch was a win in the concealment of my relationship with Dax. We hadn't been outed and I hadn't leapt over his mother's turkey casserole to latch my mouth onto his; that in itself was a positive.
"You can't reschedule?" I heard Cherry sigh as I slowly and carefully fastened every button on my coat. Even though I'd finished 'Persuasion' that morning and was eager to indulge in some young adult gratification by beginning 'The Hunger Games' I still wanted to know how the twins planned to turn this around in their favour. In the current moment, my love life was a little bit more important than a dystopian love triangle.
"Well I am determined that we go out for a drink before the holiday ends."
There was a pause as his non-committal answer stumped the girls until Vi did what she did best and took the initiative. "Tomorrow night it is then."
Cherry interjected before Dax could make any other excuse and clapped her hands together gleefully. "Great, we'll go to-" I rolled my eyes as the twins continued their scheme and followed my parents. It was inevitable that the twins would manipulate time, space and events to get closer to Dax and there was nothing I could do about it. For the last twenty-four years I'd come to terms with them getting their way with everything…I just hoped I was wrong.
"See you around, Indy." Dax's voice followed me out into the snow and I felt rather than heard the underlying meaning of his farewell.
"Bye, Dax." I returned pleasantly over my shoulder as I whipped my scarf around my neck and descended carefully down his front steps. As I thought about the way he had gripped my hips in the hallway and the underlying tone of his goodbye I realised I may not get as much reading done as I had hoped this holidays and the thought had me burying my smile in my scarf
Thank you to the following reviewers: The Cynical Nerd, DuchessYappingDog, sinkingshorelines, goodbyemylover, flunkybubbleshorts, ctolhouse, alchem
A.N: Life can get pretty hectic so just know that I am always thinking about my stories here and working on them in between work, Uni, life and breathing. :)
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