It was the proximity that drove her nuts.
She didn't even need to reach out, just shift slightly to the left and their bare arms would be touching. She remembered the feel of that arm when they'd crashed into one another fighting for control of the ball in a heated game of soccer. She remembered the feel of that arm when she'd grabbed it to stop him crossing the road into oncoming traffic. She remembered the feel of that arm when it had held her close the one and only time he'd kissed her on the back porch.
But she didn't move.
And yet, there was something in the air. Maybe she was imagining it, but something definitely felt different today.
"Do you have soccer practice after school, Tan?"
"Yeah," Tanya said through a bite of toast, doing her best to ignore the existence of the form beside her.
"Will you need Richie to drive you or do you have a ride?"
From the way Rich froze with his spoon hanging in the air and the pleading looks that followed, Tanya hazarded a guess that she'd have to find another ride home.
"Nah I've got it sorted," she said, and Rich's mother nodded happily.
"Alright, I'm going to work. Dean, don't forget you have a doctor's appointment at 2pm. And please give them the note I've written this time, I don't want another call because you forgot."
She got murmurs in reply and Tanya deposited her plate in the sink before heading to her bedroom. Grabbing her backpack and project folder, she was downstairs and piling into Rich's car with Dean, Moose and Mitch before they could yell for her. She managed bag the left right seat in the back which put Moose in between her and Mitch. Both Moose and herself were the smallest of the teenagers in the household and so always had the privilege, or not as the case may be, of having to occupy the smaller middle seat. Tanya did her best to only sit there when Mitch was in the front.
It just made it a little easier to breath.
"Have you talked to your parents recently?" Moose asked, surprising her.
"Uh, yeah, yesterday. They'll be asleep right now."
"Think you'll go see them soon?"
Tanya wrinkled her nose. "You're not still trying to get rid of me, are you? I thought we did all that already?"
Moose rolled his eyes. "Just making conversation, Miss Paranoid. But hey, if you want to go on an extended visit who am I to stop you."
He received two elbows in the sides, one from Tanya, and one from Mitch. Tanya met Mitch's eyes over his head a shot a quick smile before turning to look out the window. It might have seemed to anyone else that Tanya and Moose didn't get along, but things had improved significantly from when she had first arrived in the Campbell household several months before. A lot of Moose's jibes now were empty threats he'd become accustomed to making. It was a vast difference from how she used to come home to holes cut in her tops, her sanitary towels spread all over the house and her cosmetics emptied onto her bed. She'd fought many many battles to get to where she was now.
For the most part the Campbell boys had now accepted her as one of their own. It helped that she acted more like a boy most of the time than a girl, with the exception of her stash of cosmetics and her crankiness once a month. And the exception of that time on the porch.
"You got a date today, Rich?" Tanya asked, changing the subject.
"Yeah," he said, glancing at her in the rearview mirror. "Sorry I would drive you but-"
"Nah it's fine, the gorgeous Michelle waits for no one. I'll ask one of the girls at soccer."
Rich flashed a thankful smile and Tanya remembered how awestruck she'd been by him when she'd first arrived. All lean muscle and white teeth, she'd been blown away by the change in someone she hadn't seen since she was 9 years old. That was a thing of the past though, and she was pretty sure Rich had never even suspected she'd harbored any feelings towards him in that way, thankfully. He was so wrapped up in his girlfriend, Michelle, he'd never have considered her anyway.
No, it was best to stay away from those sorts of feelings toward the Campbell boys.
The ride to school was quick and Tanya bolted from the car as soon as it had come to a stop in the parking lot, waving her hand over her shoulder as she departed. The weather was starting to warm up again now that it was Spring, and the blast of cool air as she walked inside the school building was pleasant if perhaps a slightly too arctic so early in the season. She met up with Grace on her way to her first class and they discussed the upcoming match between their school and Barkley that weekend. Barkley had a strong female soccer team, but with Tanya and Chelsea on the team for Malcolm Winters' High School, anything was possible.
Lunchtime couldn't come soon enough. Classes were okay, but they kept Tanya inside on warm sunny days like today which meant she stared out the window more often than she paid attention to her teachers. And funnily enough her teachers weren't all that keen on that attitude to studying.
"Another detention?" Karen asked as Tanya plonked her bag down on the lunch table and sighed.
"Managed to talk myself out of it again, but not sure how long Boden's gonna keep going for it."
"I don't know why he falls for it now, anyone can tell you're just staring into space not 'drawing inspiration from the outside world.' Ew, maybe he likes you or something," said Grace, to which Karen simulated gagging noises.
"Please don't, I'm about to eat lunch."
"And you don't want to imagine a 40-year-old man lusting after our Tanya while you eat?"
"Shut up, please just shut up."
Tanya left the laughter behind her as she went up to the cafeteria and purchased her food. On the way back she saw Mitch and Dean had joined their table along with a few other usuals. The fact that Mitch had sat next to her bag gave her pause, however. Mitch tended to sit on the other side of the table a few people down. In fact, at every table they sat at together he never chose a seat near her. Not since the "incident." This morning had been a coincidental turn of events. She had found herself next to him at the breakfast table because she was later than usual and the other seats had been taken.
Tanya rolled her shoulders and took a deep breath in and out. Mitch didn't look up as she removed her backpack and replaced it with her tray and sat beside him. No one else gave any indication that the new seating arrangement had caused them a moment's thought, except Grace, the only one she had told what had happened a month before. Grace subtly raised her eyebrows and gave a small shrug. She'd noticed, but didn't know why there had been a change, so they hadn't said anything when they'd sat down. Tanya shrugged back and tucked into her fries, a few more butterflies in her stomach than before.
"Are you coming out to support us on Saturday?" Karen asked their friends, turning the conversation back to a topic that so often dominated their conversation. Karen was also on the team.
"I'll be there, of course" said Grace, who was not on the team. She rolled her eyes. Grace wasn't the slightest bit interested in soccer, but seeing has her sister was the star player their supportive parents dragged her to every game whether she wanted to or not. Chelsea was widely expected to get a sports scholarship and their parents couldn't be prouder, while Grace couldn't care less.
"It'll be nice to have you there, you better come in full school colors and everything" Tanya said, teasingly.
"Yeah sure, I'm having a T-shirt made with your face on it as we speak."
It was always nice to have Grace there, even though she spent most of the game reading. Occasionally when they scored or the opposing team's fans got a little too loud she would start hollering Tanya's name. It was nice to have the support. Tanya's parents obviously couldn't be there, seeing as they were still on their sabbatical in Germany. The Campbell's had been to most of the early games but had gradually become engrossed in their own lives again, especially when Janet and Craig had stopped making them come.
"Got other things to do," said Tom, unapologetically.
"I've got my shift at Dairy Queen so I can't, sorry Karen," Teagan said, smiling shyly.
"You'll be there, right?" Karen asked her boyfriend who nodded without replying, too engrossed in his phone to form words.
Tanya allowed herself a quick glance beside her at Mitch who hadn't said anything. He was also checking his phone and Tanya swallowed the impulse to ask him. She didn't know whether she'd be relieved or disappointed with either answer so thought it best not to ask.
"You joining us Moose?"
Tanya looked behind her as Moose wandered past, looking over their heads. He looked down and sneered.
"Charming fellow," Grace commented as he walked off to find his own friends. "Is he always so angry at everything?"
Tanya finally locked eyes with Mitch, who grinned. She couldn't help smiling back warmly in return, before looking back at her plate.
"Someone needs to remove that stick, pronto. He'll never get a girlfriend. Or he will and he'll drive her insane."
"I don't think he cares about that right now," Tanya said, pushing her carrots around her plate.
"All guys care about the kind of stuff, right Mitch?" asked Grace. Her expression was all innocence as she looked pointedly at him.
"I guess so," was all he said.
Grace rolled her eyes. She always did like to tread the line between comfortable and potentially uncomfortable situations.
"Did you find a ride for after soccer?" Mitch suddenly asked her.
"Um…" Taken off guard that Mitch was once again looking her directly in the eyes at such close proximity, Tanya fumbled for words that would make a coherent sentence. It was ridiculous that he could still do this to her after a month of careful treatment.
"You need a ride, Tan?" Karen asked, coming to the rescue.
"Yeah, uh, can I ride with you by any chance?"
"Sure! Bobby, we're taking Tan home after soccer okay?" She received a grunt in reply which was enough confirmation for her.
"Guess you're sorted then," said Mitch with another smile, and he returned to the conversation on his right. Grace was looking at Tanya with imperceptibly widened eyes, and this time Tanya shrugged.
The status-quo for the last few months had been Mitch and Tanya barely saying a word to each other except "pass the salt" and "excuse me" when they passed each other on the stairs. They hadn't actively avoided each other, but neither had they sought each others company. They ate lunch together but kept their friends between them, and they weren't assigned to seats next to each other in class so that never proved a problem. There was a quiet between them that to Tanya had at times felt overwhelming, especially considering how well they'd gotten along before the kiss.
The kiss had changed everything.
After she'd stopped watching Rich with puppy dog eyes, she'd been able to come out of her shell a little more and had found a kindred spirit in Mitch. It helped that they were the same age and had ended up sharing the same friends, but it was more than that. They enjoyed the same daft music, and liked to argue about the success of the Transformers movies, and they'd been able to share jokes just by looking at each other.
There was no reason why that moment on the back porch had turned out different than the others, when they'd sat together listening to the sounds of the cicadas and argued the pros and cons of the release of another superhero movie. But he'd helped her up and they were making their way inside when they both reached for the back door at the same time. They'd smiled at each other, and their gaze had held like a moment in a movie, except unlike what Tanya had thought it actually wasn't that awkward at all. And then as if the same thought or feeling had occurred to them both at the same time they'd reached instead for each other and their lips and crashed together.
Kissing Mitch was unlike any of the few kisses she'd had previously with other boys. Those kisses had always been awkward to start with and had only become natural after a bit of practice. This kiss was instantly warm and natural and magic, to be cliché. It hadn't felt weird, or awkward. Tanya had held on tightly to Mitch's arms as they encircled her and her thoughts were a jumbled mess as he kept kissing her and kissing her. It was perfect. Would have been perfect. If the door hadn't opened.
That was the thing about living with another family. A family with six boys no less, the youngest an extra surprise addition to the family and still in pre-school. The parents were very protective of the young girl who had come to stay with them, whose parents had entrusted her to their care. And that meant keeping her safe from the hands of their rambunctious and hormonal teenage boys. That issue hadn't even been a problem in the beginning. Apart from Mitch and Rich, the boys hadn't wanted her there and had in fact often been in trouble for trying to drive her away. Janet and Craig had become complacent about their other worries and instead had worked hard to make the other boys accept her into the family home. The older boys' good treatment of her seen as a good thing as she had people on her side when the younger ones were found running around the house in her bras.
That all changed when Janet had caught Mitch and Tanya outside. It was their first kiss, but it was definitely to be their last if the parents had anything to do with it. It still pained Tanya that, sitting in their kitchen, his parents had actually apologized profusely that their son had made moves on her. She'd wanted to tell them the truth, would have, but for Mitch's insistent shake of the head behind them.
Mitch had been grounded, warned off of her, and they were never left alone for a moment again.
The thing about Mitch was that he was not the type to put up with set rules at home but break them outside of it. He respected all his parents' wishes and made sure they were never alone at school, and suddenly they went from talking everyday about everything and anything to polite greetings and awkward silences.
It had hurt Tanya to see him be the only one to receive a punishment that they both equally deserved, and the guilt had eaten at her for the past month they had kept up this new relationship. It also killed her that she had just found someone that she desperately liked, more than liked, but who now never showed the slightest sign that he'd ever been interested in her at all. Was it a façade for his parents? Or now that he was categorically not allowed to date her he was no longer interested?
Tanya sneaked another look at Mitch. He appeared to all the world to be utterly oblivious of the girl on his left. It was enough to make a young girl's heart ache.
That is, until his knee nudged hers.
Tanya stared at her lap, feeling the softness of his denim jeans against her bare leg. Did he know it was there? Why wasn't he moving it away?
Unsure of what to do, Tanya shifted in her seat to subtly move her leg away and picked up her brownie. Mid-chew she felt his knee press back against hers and knew for sure this time it was deliberate. The brownie which had been so delicious a second ago felt like sawdust in her mouth and she worked hard to finish chewing and swallow. The butterflies in her stomach, which had abated somewhat, suddenly took flight again and she put down the treat, no longer able to stomach it.
"Are you going to finish that?"
Mitch pointed at her brownie, and with a shake of her head he picked it up broke off pieces into his mouth. Watching him tuck into the brownie set Tanya's heart off in an uncomfortable pounding rhythm and she abruptly stood up. Conversation paused around her and she picked up her tray.
"I need to see Ms. Henning before next class. I'll see you there, Grace. See you at practice, Karen."
On legs that were only slightly shaky, she exited the lunch hall and made her way through the hallways and eventually to doors that led to an outside courtyard. Dropping her bag on a bench, she collapsed and breathed in a lung-full of fresh air. He'd barely touched her and it had been enough to send her running from the room. She had it bad. Really bad.
But why had he done it? He'd been so careful all this time, and she'd followed his lead. What did that mean? Did he like her? Or was he so past any feelings for her he was back to normal.
It was understandable why Janet and Craig didn't want them together. It wasn't that they didn't think she was good enough for their son or anything, clearly they didn't want two teenagers having a relationship while living under the same roof – teenagers with rampant hormones no less.
It was complicated. Too complicated. And she didn't know what to think. Her mind kept flashing back to that kiss, that one extraordinary kiss, and how she wanted to do it again. She'd been shoving that feeling down for a month, but now it raged more than ever. From the simple touch of a knee.
She was done for.
"FASTER FASTER! WATCH YOUR RIGHT SIDE JENNER!"
"Center! I'm center!"
"Nice one Higgins!"
Tanya collapsed in a heap on the ground in front of the goal and let her teammates pile on top of her. It was only a practice, but they were as enthusiastic as if it were a real game. It was one of the things she loved about this team compared the one at her old school. When they let her up again, she was helped up by the hand of a tall statuesque girl who was smiling wryly.
"Well done Tan."
"Thanks Chelsea," Tanya said, grinning. She knew how much it cost Chelsea to say those words seeing as she'd gotten past her to claim the winning goal. They were nothing if not competitive with each other.
"Hey! Tanya still need a ride?"
"Yeah!" Tanya said, as Karen walked backwards towards the school.
"Come on then, quick shower. Bobby hates waiting!"
Tanya jogged into the changing rooms and grabbed one of the shower stalls. The adrenaline rush was still fresh from her win and she changed in double quick time. She left her damp hair down and followed Karen out into the parking lot to meet Bobby, discussing how much one of the freshman had improved recently. Bobby rarely talked, it was one of the reasons Karen said she liked him. Tanya couldn't quite understand it but the fact that Bobby was apparently a great kisser was enough for her friend.
"High school romances don't last forever," Karen had said one afternoon. "You leave this tiny community and go out into the big bad world and meet tons more people who you're probably more compatible with. No point in trying to find The One right now. So why not have a little fun?"
Tanya wasn't sure how Bobby felt about these particular words of wisdom, but he was happy enough that they were still together after seven months. In that time she could count on both hands the number of words he'd said to her, and the number didn't increase on the ride back to the Campbell's. Karen happily kept up conversation, though, and Tanya was soon deposited in front of the house and they were driving away.
Inside the house it was unusually quiet. She could hear a TV on somewhere but wasn't sure which room it was coming from, and only Janet was in the kitchen bustling away at the stove.
"Tanya! There you are. Good practice?"
"Yes thank you, Janet."
"None today, can I help you?"
"Oh no," Janet said, shaking her head and reaching for her spice cabinet. "Don't you worry about that, but I'd love some company."
"Sure thing, I'll just dump my stuff upstairs."
Every door was shut upstairs. She assumed Rich wasn't in and Craig was probably on his way back from work as both their cars weren't outside. As for everyone else, it was anybody's guess where they were. She quickly chucked her things in her room and rejoined Janet in the kitchen.
"It's quiet isn't it?"
"Oh yes, isn't it wonderful," Janet said chuckling. "Dean and Mitch took Sam to the park. Michael is at Jamie's house for dinner, and Rich is with Michelle so that saves me two meals to cook. I expect Craig will walk in any minute now. Blessed peace."
Michael was Moose's real name. His parents were the only ones who called him by his given name, and no one could tell me where 'Moose' came from. The thought of an evening without his sarcastic remarks was almost too good to be true. Moose was alright, deep down… deep deep deep down. But he didn't seem to want anyone to know it.
"Mom and dad give their love," Tanya said. They'd Skyped late the night before to check up on her. She usually talked to them two or three times a week.
"Oh lovely, send them ours next time you talk. How is their research going?"
"It's going." Tanya's mind tended to wander when her parents started talking about their research of German medieval something or other. As the daughter of two brilliant scholars, it might have been a sore point that she had not inherited their incredible brains and thirst for knowledge. But she did alright in school and didn't care to do much better, soccer was her passion for now.
"Is everything okay with you?" asked Janet, stirring the pasta.
"No one causing you any problems?"
"Not that I know of. Well, there's Moose but… well, it's Moose."
"Good. Good. No other problems from any of my other boys?"
"No, they're fine. I think we're good now."
"Wonderful. Wonderful. And… Rich is looking out for you properly?"
"Yep. He's been great about the rides to school and stuff so, yeah."
Tanya wondered humorously if Janet was going to repeat every comment. Then she looked at Janet, curiously. She hadn't turned the whole time she'd been asking her questions, questions about the boys. Were her questions leading somewhere?
If her questions had been leading somewhere, Tanya didn't find out where as the front door suddenly slammed open and a little tyke suddenly ran yelling into the kitchen and wrapped himself around his mother's legs.
"Moooooooom, no more tickles!"
Two more laughing faces rounded the corner and Janet let go of her spoon to reach down and detangle her son from her legs.
"What have they been doing to you? Tickling is it? Boys pack it in, you know he can't handle it."
Dean and Mitch sniggered. Clearly they all remembered the last time Sam had been tickled ferociously and had ended up wetting himself. Tanya had felt very sympathetic for him. Wetting yourself was embarrassing at any age. His brothers had of course found it hilarious. Not so hilarious when they'd all be grounded for the weekend, but it apparently hadn't put them off forever.
"Tan Tan! Help me."
Sam let go of his mother and galloped over to Tanya's stool, so she reached down and hauled him onto her lap. His little mop of blonde hair was adorable and Sam was an incredibly cute little boy. Cute, but bratty, as Sam turned his head and poked his tongue out at his brothers.
When Janet turned to stir the pasta, Mitch shot a sly wink at Tanya. Her breath caught in her throat and she smiled shyly, immediately feeling a blush spread across her warm cheeks. It was such an unusual reaction for her that a look of surprise crossed his face.
Both Dean and Mitch looked fairly similar, standing in the doorway, with their dark hair and eyes. They were a little stockier than then Moose and Rich, but were taller than Moose, and more muscled because they both liked to play sports at school.
However, it was Mitch that drew Tanya's eyes. His skin glowed with a slight sheen of sweat from playing rough with his brothers, and he just looked so solid and relaxed, leaning as he was against the doorframe. Those dark eyes hadn't yet looked away from her, and Tanya couldn't seem to draw her gaze away either.
"Go shower and get change, I can smell you from here," Janet interrupted, ruining the moment, and Tanya buried her face in Sam's soft hair.
Mitch seemed to make her have all kinds of unusual feelings. She kept her face hidden until she heard the boys' heavy footsteps running up the stairs. She couldn't help a quick glance at the place where Mitch had stood, and then turned her attention to Sam who began telling her all about pre-school.
Mitch was back in his usual seat on the other side of the table during dinner, so Tanya didn't have to worry about knocking knees with him. The teenagers of the Campbell household took it in turns to do the dishes after each evening meal, but as two of them were out, all those remaining pitched in to clear up. Tanya was on washing up duty, her least favorite, not that she'd ever complain out loud.
She carefully rinsed a plate and put it in the drying rack where it was promptly plucked from its place and swaddled in a cloth. With a start she realized that Mitch was standing beside her. Mitch was never beside her to do the dishes anymore. He always seemed to make sure there was some other task that kept him from staying in the room with her for too long.
Mitch was smiling down at her, and Tanya couldn't help feeling confused. She handed him another plate, careful to make sure their hands didn't touch and picked up a glass.
She almost dropped the glass in the soapy suds, but recovered just in time.
They didn't say anything more for a moment and Tanya wondered if she was imagining the heat radiating from the arm that was so close to her again. Just one shift to the left and… but no. Just like the morning, Tanya refused to make the move. Not until she knew what this new change was about.
Mitch's warm breath tickled her ear and Tanya shivered as he leaned towards her, but he wasn't able to continue.
"Mitch! We need you."
Mitch sighed, then cursed, and put the plate down. He shot her a meaningful look, one she still couldn't read, and left the kitchen. It was only then Tanya realized she'd been holding her breath and let it out in a swoosh. What was going on?
She raced through the rest of the washing up and Mitch didn't come back in. Once she'd dried her hands she went straight to her bedroom and closed the door. There was no homework to do to distract her, so she opened her laptop and checked her email. After replying to a few messages from friends she'd left behind and checking out a few Youtube videos, Tanya was at a loss for what to do. She flopped on her bed, enjoying the cool breeze from her slightly open window.
Dean and Moose passed by her door, arguing about the Patriots to the point that both slammed their respective doors behind them. For twins they didn't seem to get along very well. After a minute or two Sam ran down the hallway and started banging on their doors. She could always tell it was Sam as his footsteps were much smaller and quicker. Eventually one of them let him in and there was silence again. And there was Tanya, lying on her bed, twiddling her thumbs.
Eventually she thought she might have fallen asleep because the room was much darker when she opened her eyes. Tanya pressed a button on her phone which told her that it was 8pm, she'd fallen asleep for about two hours. Not good for someone as nocturnal as she was, sleep was going to be difficult coming that night.
She was going to turn her beside lamp on when she realized what had woken her. She could hear voices from downstairs through her bedroom door. They were agitated, speaking fast and she couldn't quite understand the words, even if she could tell the tone.
Tanya tiptoed to the door and opened it just a little to peer out into the hallway. Not surprisingly, Dean, Moose, and Sam were crouched at the top of the stairs eavesdropping on the conversation below. Rich was either not back or didn't care.
"What's going on?" she whispered through the door, and the three boys turned to look at her, startled. Then Moose scowled.
"Oh nothing, you're just causing trouble again."
He received a swift smack to the back of his head from Dean.
"Please ignore him as usual," said Dean, and turned back to the noise downstairs. Tanya planned to do just that, but if she really was the source of the trouble downstairs then…
She couldn't quite work up the nerve. Maybe if she went downstairs she'd just make it worse. Was it Mitch? He was the only one not there. Unless Rich was back and he was the one Janet and Craig were talking to. Or telling off. But what would she have done to get Rich in trouble? Was it because he didn't give her a ride this morning?
Someone below growled loudly in apparent frustration and then footsteps came thundering up the stairs. She saw Mitch's head appear and watched as he knocked over Moose who couldn't get out of his way fast enough. Mitch ignored his brother's pained yell and Tanya assumed he was heading straight for his room next to hers. But he didn't. He pushed open her door and she was just about able to jump back to keep it from stubbing her toe.
He looked faintly surprised to see her just behind the door, but then he grabbed her hand and pulled her out into the hall. Dean and Moose looked just as shocked as she was, and Sam had hidden himself behind Dean's legs as Mitch dragged her down the stairs and into the living room. Janet and Craig were standing together, a united parental front. Tanya couldn't quite read their expressions, but they didn't look happy.
And the fact that Mitch had not let go of her hand was incredibly distracting.
"Mom? Dad? This is Tanya. The girl I like."
"Mitchell, there is no need for you to be sarcastic to your mother," his father reprimanded, drowning out her stunned murmur.
"I'm not being sarcastic," Mitchell said, squeezing her hand tightly. "I'm deadly serious. I like her. A lot. And I want to ask her on a date, not ignore her for another month."
"We've talked about this," Janet sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose. "You can't date her, Mitchell, you live under the same roof, she's in our care. Her parents trusted us to take care of her."
It was interesting to join a conversation that continued on as if she wasn't there. Tanya looked back and forth, as if she was watching a tennis match.
"Then I'll talk to them, I'll Skype them. I'll explain everything and ask their permission."
"It's not that easy, you're still under the same roof."
"Then I'll move out."
Both Janet and Tanya gasped.
"What? No! What are you saying?" Tanya tugged on his hand but he wasn't looking at her.
"I'll move out and move in with grandma. I'm sure she'll have me, she has that extra bedroom and she's always asking me to stay. It's not too far from school."
"Don't be ridiculous, Mitchell. You're not moving in with Nana May."
"I'm not being ridiculous, I'm trying to show you how serious I am. I'm not going to keep leaving rooms that Tanya's in and keep my distance and not talk to her. I only agreed to that and kept it up so you could see that you could trust me not to be stupid."
"That's what this past month has been about?"
Mitch finally looked over at her, and nodded, his eyes softening a little.
"I thought it meant you didn't like me." The words were out of her mouth before she remembered that this talk she had often dreamed of having in private with him, not in front of his parents who were glaring pretty hard at them. Well, Craig was glaring, Janet just looked troubled.
"What? No. You thought that?" He took both her hands, just like Tanya had pictured in this scene she'd played in her head over and over – with less company present, of course. "They made me promise to leave you alone, and I thought if I could show them – I thought if I could show you," he said turning to his parents again, "that I could do that you'd see that I do have control over myself."
"Mitchell, that's not the point-"
"That is the point!" He wasn't far off from yelling, and a vein was standing out in his reddening neck. Tanya watched, fascinated. She'd never seen Mitchell angry before, ever. And she gathered it was a rare occurrence for his parents, too, as they watched him argue with them with increasing disbelief.
"That is the point," he exclaimed again. "You seem to think that if we started dating we'd be off skulking in corners or locking ourselves in bedrooms or whatever else it is you assume teenagers do. But you should know me. I'm not Dean. I don't sneak in and out of the house at night when everyone's asleep on a weeknight." Dean was going to kill him for that, Tanya thought absently. "I'm not Rich, coming back from dates breaking curfew. I'm not Moose… being a little shit about everything. This is me we're talking about."
"You started a relationship with Tanya behind our backs, may I remind you," Craig countered.
"What relationship?" Mitch asked. "I told you, that night was the first time we ever– that I ever kissed her. I didn't even have a chance to talk to her about it before you had us sitting at opposite ends of the kitchen table."
"Tanya, what do you have to say about all this?"
Janet's calm voice cut through the tension in the room with a jolt and suddenly all eyes were on Tanya as if they'd forgotten she was there. Her hand was almost numb from how hard Mitch was squeezing it, but she'd kept her mouth shut throughout the back and forth.
With a deep breath, Tanya looked at Janet and Craig squarely in the eyes, even though she desperately wanted to talk to the floor.
"Mitch is right, that really was the only time we ever… kissed." She put extra emphasis on the 'we,' wishing she had spoken up that first night. She also wished she didn't have to talk about kissing in front of his parents, but something vague like 'did stuff' would probably make the situation a whole lot worse. "It was out of the blue, it's not like we discussed… anything like that. And then, yeah, you told us to keep apart and we wanted to respect those wishes. Just like he said."
"And you wanted to be… kissed by Mitch? He didn't do something unwanted?"
If a hole had opened up and swallowed Tanya at that point, she could easily say she'd have been happy about it. She was blushing again, definitely, she could feel the heat spread up her neck. This was so unlike her.
"Yes. And no. I mean yes I wanted… that and no it wasn't… unwanted. I like him a lot too."
Tanya couldn't quite bring her eyes to meet Mitch's, even though she knew he was looking at her. Instead she watched as Janet and Craig looked at each other and silently communicate something.
"It's still a problem that you live in the same house," Craig said eventually, "and no, Mitch, you are not moving out. And neither is Tanya. We made a promise to her parents and we're keeping it."
"I'll talk to them," Tanya said quickly, her heart in her mouth. Hope had been steadily rising ever since she'd heard Mitch say he liked her out loud the first time. "They're pretty cool, I mean I'm sure they're not going to be overly thrilled about the idea or anything, but they should understand at least. I mean they started dating when they were already living together didn't they?"
"They were also in college," Janet said, a small smile appearing for the first time that night.
"I'm not waiting another year," Mitch said, head tilted back and his eyes closed. The thought looked physically painful to him and Tanya clamped her lips together to stop the laughter bubbling up in her throat.
Janet and Craig were back to silently communicating and the bubble of laughter quickly dissipated. Tanya cleared her throat which caught their attention.
"Could we, I mean, could we maybe settle on the idea that we'll let my parents know, and ask them what they think, and maybe agree to sit down to see what we might be able to come up with to let us… to make it work? Somehow?"
More silent communication and Tanya wondered whether it was her palm that was starting to sweat, or Mitch's. Finally, Janet nodded slowly.
"Okay, we'll keep the communication lines open. Mitch, it's not that we don't trust you honey. We do, and yes probably a bit more than your brothers if we're honest. But we also remember being teenagers ourselves. And we know how certain… feelings can run riot for teenage boys and girls. Hormones and your changing bodies, it's a lot to manage."
Tanya was pretty sure she was the only one to hear Mitch murmur "gross" under his breath, and looked down to inspect the carpet carefully in case she smiled and put them off.
"We won't rule anything out just yet," Janet continued. "We just ask that you please be respectful around the house, and outside, and make sure to set a good example for the boys. And neither of you are to be in each other's bedrooms together with the doors closed. Doors open at all times please."
Tanya was well and truly crimson now. Where was that whole when she needed it? The red in Mitch's cheeks had never abated, but she figured it had more to do with embarrassment now than it had with anger.
"Fine. Whatever you say mom." Craig still hadn't said anything but he wasn't objecting, and Janet looked less troubled. It was something. "Can we go now?"
"Where?" Instantly the suspicion was back in her voice.
"Jeez, the back porch. Not much trouble we can get up to outside. And we're all going stay open-minded and calm like we agreed, right?" Mitch looked back and forth between his parents.
"Right. No funny business."
"No funny business, okay dad. We're going now…" Mitch gently placed the hand that wasn't clasped with hers on her shoulder and pushed her gently into the hall. Dean, Sam and Moose were still at the top of the stairs, and Tanya cringed to think they'd heard the whole thing. She didn't even want to imagine what the next few weeks were going to be like with them.
Moose was smirking, but Mitch cut him off before he could even fully open his mouth.
"One word, Moose, one word and I'll break every video game disc you own."
"Test me, mate. Seriously."
Something in Mitch's expression clearly convinced Moose of his sincerity because he stormed back to his room, and Mitch was hustling Tanya out onto the back porch.
Where it had all started.
Tanya's knees gave out when she reached the back steps and she inhaled the night air deeply to steady her nerves. Mitch sat down beside her, his arm ever so slightly brushing hers.
"Did that really happen?"
"Did I just yell at my parents for the first time ever? Think so."
Tanya looked at Mitch who stared out into the garden. Rather than looking pensive about the whole thing, he gave off a familiar air of peace which had been missing for the last few weeks. He crossed his arms on his knees. He was no longer red, and his tanned skin shone slightly yellow under the porch light.
"I don't know whether to apologize or thank you."
"Thank me? I dragged you into that. Literally, by the hand. I'm sorry. I must have really embarrassed you in there. And probably broken your hand."
Tanya flexed the hand he had gripped onto so tightly. The color had come back quickly, but she still felt the tension of his hand around hers. It was pleasant, actually.
The cicadas were roaring in the background just as loudly as they had when they'd last sat outside together. And the night was just as dark. It was even starting to get a little chilly but Tanya covered up a shiver by pressing her hands down hard on the porch step.
"You really thought I didn't like you?"
Mitch was looking at her now and the light cast sharp shadows over his features. He really did have the most gorgeous face. So much so that Tanya couldn't quite look at him when she answered.
"Well, I mean you didn't ignore me as such, but you were just… indifferent, I guess. So yeah, it kind of confused me. And it went on for so long…"
"I didn't mean for that to happen. I'm sorry about that too."
"You're not the one that should keep apologizing. When they sat us down after they saw us, I should have told them that it wasn't just you. I was kissing you just like you were kissing me. Maybe then we could have talked this thing through already."
"That's not your fault, I didn't want you to get in trouble."
"I know, but I still should have."
Tanya shivered again, and Mitch saw it this time. He lifted his arm around her shoulder and pulled her in close to his side. Tanya couldn't help closing her eyes, not just at the pleasure of the added warmth, but also at the pleasure of freely being able to touch him again. She'd never appreciated it as a luxury before.
"So you like me, huh?"
"I wondered when that was coming."
Tanya chuckled and rested her head on his broad shoulder.
"I was really impressed, you standing up to your parents like that. I mean don't get me wrong your parents are awesome, but, it was impressive."
"What happened though? I mean what changed? The whole day you've been different, not just when you were talking to your parents."
Mitch didn't speak for a moment, but Tanya remembered that he often liked to think before he said something important. Even if 'important' meant a convincing argument as to why there should be another Transformers movie. So she waited patiently, enjoying the feel of the rise and fall of his chest.
"Yesterday," he said finally. "You remember how you were on the window seat in the living room and we were watching the game? And you looked out the window?"
Tanya remembered looking out the window a lot. For most of the game in fact. Football had never held much appeal. Yet another reason why Moose had had a problem with her from the get-go.
"I just looked over and… I think it just hit me. How much I missed you. Like, talking to you and hanging out and just being free to ask you if you wanted to go out for a kick around or something without mom and dad watching like a hawk."
"I did notice the special attention we were getting."
"Did you notice it this morning?" Tanya shook her head. "After yesterday I just stayed up last night and thought, you know, fuck it. It's ridiculous how they were making us treat each other. So this morning I kept my bag on the next seat until everyone had come in and sat down, and then moved it so you'd be able to sit next to me. Immediately mom was watching our every move. For god's sake we were eating breakfast surrounded by my brothers, did she think I was just gonna have my 'wicked way' with you right there on the breakfast bar?"
"Mmm, I'd only have complained a little."
Mitch laughed and a grin spread across Tanya's face. It was nice being able to make him laugh again. And it occurred to her that it probably explained why Janet had started asking her questions about the boys after school. It had been her round-about way of fishing for information about Mitch. And speaking of school…
"So the knee thing at school?"
"Oh yeah, I was testing the waters. Didn't want you freaking out over my sudden attitude change."
"Still almost gave me a heart attack."
"Yeah?" Mitch sounded pleased with himself and Tanya smacked him his chest. He rubbed the spot and chuckled. "Sorry, not sorry."
"Think my parents really will be okay with this?" she asked, voicing what really was a worry for her. She'd downplayed it in the living room. "Living in the house together and being… more than friends?"
"More than friends, eh? Well when you put it that way." Mitch preemptively held both her hands in his so she couldn't smack him again and buried his nose in her hair. "Well, I haven't actually talked to them since I was 9 so it's kind of hard to judge. What do you think?"
"I think it'll be okay," she said. "If anything I can use the 'you abandoned me and left the country for a year' card. Or the 'you left a teenage girl in a house with 4 teenage boys what did you expect' card. I haven't used those yet. Been saving them."
"You know it."
Mitch pulled the hair back from the side of her head and kissed her right behind her ear. A major shiver ran through her. God what this boy could do to her.
"Still cold?" he asked.
"Really not, right now."
For a moment, all Tanya could hear with the cicadas and her pulse pounding in her ears. And then, just like before, they turned to each other and their lips crashed together. Janet was certainly right about the raging hormones, Tanya thought absentmindedly as Mitch turned her to sit forward in his lap. The floorboards were incredibly uncomfortable under her knees, but she'd worry about that later. Their kiss was filled with a month's worth of longing and it seared through her to the point of taking her breath away. His hands disappeared under her shirt and pressed against the bare skin of her back, and she buried her hands in his hair and pressed him closer, trying to remember to keep the noise down. This would definitely count as 'funny business' and god forbid Janet and Craig hear them and come out to check the porch. But it was hard to care about that as Mitch kissed her over and over, pulling back only to take in a quick breath before reaching for her lips again.
Frantic kisses eventually gave way to deep, longer kisses until finally they pressed bruised lips together softly over and over, unable to tear themselves apart. Tanya was the first to pull away and rest her forehead against his, her eyes closed blissfully.
"I don't care if your parents don't approve. We're doing that again," Mitch said, sucking in air and lightly rubbing her back, still under the shirt.
"Not sure I care either," Tanya said, laughing breathily.
She wrapped her arms around his neck and he pulled her to him. They stayed like that, regrouping and steadying their breathing until they were somewhat back to normal. The cicadas roared back to life as if they'd quieted at such an overtly passionate scene, though really the pair had been too involved with each other to hear them.
"Thank you for fighting for this," Tanya said into his neck, back to being the embarrassed shy girl that had suddenly sprung into existence after 17 years.
She could hear the smile in his voice.
"Tanya, this is absolutely worth fighting for."
A/N: I was slightly horrified to realize that my last posted story was ALMOST EXACTLY 2 YEARS AGO! I was utterly convinced it was last year, but apparently not. And yet I'm still getting lovely reviews and follows and favourites! You guys have no idea how amazing that is. Well I have finally, after much trial and error, remembered my password to my Fictionpress account and so in celebration, here is a story for you all which I hope you enjoy. Mailai ^_^