“I’d say a day before you were sniffing around the diner.” He winks. “At best.”
I whack his arm, laughing. “You always did bring out the worst in me.”
Reaching over, he moves close enough to rub his hand over my hip, but there’s still space between us. If he only knew I didn’t need any . . . He says, “I can argue against that as well if you want to go another round.”
I close the gap for us, wishing we had music for the dance we’re doing. Touching. Not too much. Easing into each other, old habits and new patterns. With his hand rubbing my lower back, and my arms around him again, I give in. Why suffer for no reason?
Like the other times we’ve held each other tonight, my eyes dip closed, and I breathe him in, needing his air to fill me. Whether this is the beginning or ending to something more with him, I’ll survive off these moments until the last of his breath leaves me.
With only the two of us to hold each other accountable for any indiscretions, I decide to be brave. Turning with his hand in mine, I start walking. “Is the bedroom this way?”
“Last door on the right.”
I peek in each room we pass. No, he’s not found in the fancy furnishings or the décor. I’m not sure what’s happened.
His large hands pull my hips to a stop. I look over my shoulder. “What?”
He says, “Before we go in there, I need to set the record straight.” Since we’ve been in the apartment, not an ounce of anxiety has rolled over his face.
I mentally brace myself, my breath caught in my chest. “What is it?” I didn’t notice I was leaning away from him until his hand takes my wrist, and he brings me in, wrapping my arm around him, our fingers clasped behind his back. “Letting fear slip in is only natural, Chloe. I feel it, too, but I don’t want you to feel like you have to be on guard with me. So, if we go in there, I need you to know that my heart is on the line.”
The admission doesn’t give my lungs the reprieve I need. Instead, it sends my heart into my throat. The hours, the days, the years that divided us have finally caught up. I hug him, my head resting on him as I close my eyes and listen to his heartbeat. The confirmation that I was right bears down on me. “You once told me it wasn’t wise to wear my heart on my sleeve. Even if I only wore it for you.” The back of my head is stroked with his arms holding me tightly to him and a kiss placed on top. “I didn’t listen.”
“It’s okay. I didn’t either.” Tilting back, he adds, “It was shitty advice.”
I swallow down the anxiety, feeling we’re now on even ground. “I don’t know why you’re keeping me in the hallway, but I imagine things aren’t that scary in that bedroom.”
“Guess we’ll find out.”
I laugh lightly. “If this were a movie or I didn’t know you so well, that comment would have me running out the door.”
I turn but am brought back to him again. “Maybe you should listen to your instincts.”
“You don’t scare me, Joshua Evans. You were always a risk worth taking.” This time, I push back and enter the room. My feet come to an abrupt stop just inside the door. Looking around, my heart fills with happiness and lifts the heavy that was beginning to set in. I smile with my hands clasped in front of my chest because this room is everything the rest of the apartment isn’t—pots of plants line the windowsill from one end to the other, the nightstands hold stacks of books that overflow to the floor, the bed is a mess, and sneakers are littered around the bench at the end of the bed.
This room is everything I remember him to be—messy and more concerned with other things, like plants. Even his scent of clean soap and a light cologne permeates the air. “It’s exactly how I imagined your other place.”
He hurries past me to kick the shoes under the bench as if that will make a difference. “Yeah,” he says, standing there awkwardly, mussing up the top of his hair. “It’s a mess. Sorry.”
“You don’t need to apologize. I like it.” Oddly, the only thing that feels out of place is a Yale sweatshirt neatly folded on top of the dresser. It draws me in for some reason. It’s new, in pristine condition with the sticker still stuck to the care tag.
He sits on the edge of the bed, watching me snoop around the room and letting me explore on my own. Curiosity captures me, and I walk to the windows. Rubbing a basil leaf, I glance back at him. “I’m glad you’re still into plants.”