It wasn't what was supposed to happen. It hadn't been what she'd planned, or expected, at all. But the surprise was pleasant and she relished it.
It started, she guessed, the very moment he said yes when she asked him.
"Road trip to Ocean City," she said, "taking the family bus."
"The van, you mean?" he'd laughed.
"Wanna come?" she'd replied.
"Sure," he said. And that was that.
She picked him up for a week of nautical fun at six AM. He was the first house on her way; the farthest from her route, so she started there. Consequently, he sat shotgun.
"I'll drive, if you want," he offered.
She turned on the radio and he, the non-music fan, had said, "I love this song."
"Me too," she said. They smiled at each other and picked up his best friend and her best friend, who were really more best friends with each other than those already in the car.
Then three of her friends joined them and the luggage was on the back and up top and everyone was sleeping but her.
He was sleeping, too, or she thought. She drove in concentrated quiet, a CD playing because they'd long since lost their local stations.
"Adele?" he asked quietly, fifteen minutes later.
"Alex," she replied.
"Thanks for inviting me. I know we haven't…hung out too much." His smile was chagrined and rueful and as beautiful as it had ever been. Don't fall again, Del, she told herself.
"No problem." It was the truth. They hadn't had nearly enough contact over the past year. Things had fallen out a little and they'd never come back in.
Maybe they had and they just hadn't noticed it yet. Maybe this was it.
What? Adele mocked herself in her head. This is what? The big chance? Come on, Adele.
And suddenly, they were talking, just like they used to talk. They talked about love and life, relationships and heartbreak and emotions and they spoke in quiet tones and laughed together and then it was ten o'clock and she pulled into the first McDonald's in Ocean City's drive-thru and ordered hash browns. Two orders.
"I love hash browns," he said.
"You told me once."
He looked supremely touched. "Thank you."
He held hers as she parked the van and roused her sleeping friends.
"Up! Up!" Maggie, Clara, Lily, Catie, and Noah all sat up, groaning softly. Adele looked back and Alex had begun to carry things into the condo.
Almost, she thought, but not quite yet.
* * *
It turned out that it happened three days later, three days of sun and fun and eating out every night and don't think she didn't notice that he always ended up sitting next to her and looking at her profile a moment too long. Butterflies were building in her stomach and one night she couldn't even eat her dinner.
"Are you okay?" he asked, feeling her forehead. She smiled nervously.
"Fine," she replied, and the truth had never been more truthful.
He asked the waitress for a doggie bag and Adele couldn't stop her hand shaking.
He drove back to the condo.
That was the first day.
* * *
The second day, Clara insisted they go to a dance club.
"I've always wanted to," she said, and so they went.
Adele liked to dance. She wasn't the best dancer, but she was creative. She noticed Alex standing at the wall, looking onto the dance floor. Watching her.
"I'll be right back," she yelled to Clara, and edged over to him.
"How are you?" she asked him.
"Better," he replied. "Wanna take a walk?"
"Sure," she replied, at a loss for anything but agreement.
And so they left quietly, and neither needed a coat because it was August, and the ocean lapped warmly at their bare feet.
She kicked some saline at him, she he kicked some at her, and she could feel her legs begin to itch from it. He looked good in the moonlight, blue eyes reflecting the ocean and blonde hair the color of the sand. He was meant to be here, she thought, and then considered her own Teutonic looks. Was I meant to be here, too?
They walked in silence the rest of the way back to the condo, and he stayed an inch within her personal space, bumping her arm occasionally. When he smiled at her, her hands shook again.
This time, they were shaking in anticipation.
* * *
"I think I've missed you," he said.
She turned around. Sitting peacefully on a dune at sunset, she was staring at the ocean and trying to catch glimpses of dolphins. He'd come from nowhere, as he always had.
He walked and sat down right next to her, closer than he needed to be. "I've missed you," he repeated.
"What?" she asked, knowing exactly what he meant but wanting to hear it aloud.
From the look on his face, he knew as much. "I've missed the way we talk. I've missed how you just care, and you do it so easily. I've missed things I'm making up."
Quizzically, she looked at him. "What are you talking about?"
He stared at her for a moment, then leaned over and kissed her on the lips. His lips were soft and gentle and undoubtedly knew exactly what they were doing, and he hand came up to hold her face and the rough grains of sand contrasted with the soft lips in an overwhelming mix of sensation. He made a noise, somewhere in his throat, and she wound her arms around him. This is what it's like, she thought emphatically, this is what it's like to have a good kiss.
When they broke away, he smiled, and she melted.
"That," he said, but she couldn't really remember what they had been talking about.
"Oh." She gulped. "Is this, do you want to do this for real?"
Solemnly, he nodded, meeting her gaze unblinkingly. "For real."
"Okay." And she inhaled deeply, catching some of his scent, beach and cologne and Alex.
"Are you up for it?"
Smiling, a little sadly, she replied, "I've always been up for this."
"Good." He grinned, looking happier than she'd ever seen him. She leaned lightly against his shoulder, one arm still around his neck.
She looked down into her lap and noticed that her hand was no longer shaking.
She took that as a good sign.
* * *
Of course, it couldn't stay like that forever.
The fourth day was hectic. Alex and Noah went water skiing on the bay and Adele, Maggie, Clara, Lily and Catie went shopping. Adele didn't say a word about the previous night to her friends.
We kissed three times, she told herself. That's barely anything. But he'd held her hand on the way back into the condo and kissed her before they went inside.
So maybe it was something.
When they got home, they went out to eat, and Alex sat next to her, teased her about her picky eating habits, stolen a piece of her bread and leaned a little too close when she told him a story.
After that, it got interesting.
They'd taken the bus to the restaurant because after dinner, Noah, Maggie and Clara wanted to go to the amusement park on the boardwalk, while Lily and Catie only wanted to hang out with two guys they'd met at the dance club.
Alex said he was going to walk the boardwalk.
"I'll be your bodyguard," Adele said, and hooked arms with him, happy to have an excuse. Alex didn't have an excuse not to disengage his arm, but he didn't try.
They walked, and he bought her ice cream, and it was incredible. She felt giddy and content and almost like she'd gotten an electric shock and silver sparkles were running through her veins.
She felt alive, watching the moon and watching his eyes.
She felt happy.
They kissed goodnight more times than absolutely necessary and both were reluctant to let go. When they went inside, everyone was sitting around watching television, and Adele was suddenly self-conscious, wondering if her lips looked bruised or her hair mussed.
"Have fun?" Clara asked, and Adele just nodded, hands shaking again.
* * *
He kissed her right in front of everyone on the fifth morning, and five gasps echoed the action.
Noah's dark eyes were too wide and he said, "Alex." in a scary tone before leading him to the laundry room to 'talk.' Maggie grinned at Adele and offered her a high five, and her other friends offered similar, more restrained, smiles.
They faded when they heard Noah's yelling.
"What the hell are you doing, man? I mean-what are you doing? You can't fuck around with her like that!" He sounded angry, his voice was thick and almost gruff, and he didn't sound like Noah.
"I'm not," replied Alex calmly.
"The hell you aren't! I've seen you with every girl-"
"She's not every girl."
A loud scoff. "Right, and that's what you always say. That's bullshit, man, it's bullshit, and Adele will put up with it because you know what, you dumbass? She's been in love with you since the moment she met you. But there's no way in hell you're going to treat her like that."
"I'm not," Alex repeated.
"The hell you aren't!" There was a whoosh, a crash, a yell. Adele cautiously knocked on the door.
"What?" Noah barked.
"Is everything okay?" she asked timidly.
The door flung open, and shed been resting a hand upon it, so she reeled forward a bit.
Noah's face was scary-mad and twisted up in a way that made it difficult for her to recognize him. "Let's go. You don't need this shit." He reached for her wrist but she moved her arm.
"Noah, thanks, but I'm fine. I'm really fine."
"Adele." Noah shook his head sadly, placing his hands on her shoulders. "You could do so much better."
Her eyebrows shot up in surprise, and she noticed Alex standing there, watching intently, blood on his chin. She gasped. "He's your best friend, and you do that, talk about him like that, while he's right there?"
"It's true. Let's get you out of here, okay?" This time, he got her wrist.
She twisted it sideways and jerked it out. "No, Noah. I'm not going."
Noah, shock crossing his face, went tharn. Then he exploded. "You're choosing him? Over me? That jerk? Adele!"
"Noah, that's not-"
"Whatever, I'm gone." And he stormed out of the apartment, slamming the door to punctuate his exit.
"Adele," Alex began, but she cut him off.
"Nevermind," she grumbled, and walked away.
They didn't go out to dinner that night and Noah didn't come home until two AM. Adele sat in the kitchen, waiting for him.
"Noah," she started, but he saw her first, and blurted, "Don't talk to me," before slamming the door of his bedroom.
That was when she cried.
* * *
The sixth day came and went slowly. Adele didn't come out of her room save a quick shower, and Maggie sat vigil with her. Adele felt numb.
Alex knocked on the door in 45-minute intervals and Noah left at six AM. Adele didn't have the energy to talk to any of them.
She fell asleep at 8 o'clock and didn't wake up again until the next morning.
* * *
She got into the shower early the next morning, and turned the water up so hot that it nearly burned her skin. She spent a good half-hour under the water and emerged feeling calmer and refreshed.
Alex sat at the kitchen table, staring at her. Nervously, she thought, I'm not wearing makeup, but he stood and walked over to her and didn't seem to notice.
"Is this over now?" he asked.
"Do you want it to be?" she volleyed back, stalling.
He paused and looked away from her eyes. "No," he whispered.
"Then it isn't," she replied.
"Good," he said, and kissed her. Later, they rented jet-skis and hopped the waves in the ocean and kissed some more. Alex kept his arm around her when they entered the condo later that afternoon, bronzed and laughing.
"Dinner?" she asked, and froze when Noah came out from his room. Alex dropped his arm.
"I'm sorry," he said. He should have said more, but it was okay because it was Noah, and he never said anymore. She nodded.
"It's okay," she said.
Noah looked at Alex. Alex nodded.
"Let's have dinner," Noah declared.
* * *
They went home on the seventh day, Alex still riding shotgun. She turned onto the exit to return to their city, but looking at Alex, who was covertly staring at her, and Noah, asleep on Maggie's shoulder, she thought to herself, I'm already home.
Alex smiled, as if he'd heard her thoughts, and she decided that if he had, that was okay with her.
Seven days and it was all okay. It took her a week to get home, but she was there now and time didn't matter anymore.
That song, the song that she and Alex loved, started on the radio. The stations were picking up again.
"I love this song," Alex said, sounding slightly marveled, and when she glanced at him, the look in her eyes gave away what he really meant.
"Me too, Alex," she echoed. "Me too."