“Laney!” Knock knock. “Laney, answer the door!” It’s 1 am, pitch black. “Yo, Laney!” I knock again, a little harder.
Light shines from beneath the door, and I shove my hands in my pockets and wait. Finally, the door opens and Laney appears, dressed in flannel pajamas, her black hair a mess. She squints as if trying to work out who’s at her door… as if there’d be anyone else.
“Are you going to let me in? I’ve been waiting forever.”
Turning slowly, she mumbles something under her breath, her feet sliding across the tiles of her basement bedroom.
I shrug off my jacket and throw it across the room to her couch. By the time I look back at her, she’s sitting on the edge of her bed, rubbing her eyes. She moans in frustration before getting under her covers and saying, “How was the end-of-summer party?”
I strip out of my jeans and stand in my t-shirt and boxers. “Same old,” I tell her, taking the spare blanket and pillow from the trunk by the foot of her bed. I create my usual spot on the couch while she waits for me to settle. She doesn’t watch me, though sometimes I wish she would. Ego and all.
“Was Grace there?”
“And you couldn’t go back to her place, or better yet, back to that amazing garage apartment at your own house that you have all to yourself?”
“You’re grumpy.” I wait for a response and when nothing comes, I add, “And you know I can’t have girls over at the house.”
“I’m sure you could sneak a girl in considering it’s not even attached to the house.” She motions with her hand for me to hurry up, so I smack the pillow a few times, get under the blanket and point to the lamp.
Once the room’s filled with darkness, I say, “I don’t bring girls home because it’s Dad’s rules and I respect that.” I look over at her, but the only thing I can make out is the outline of her body. “Maybe I just miss hanging out with you.” I shift to my side and try to get more comfortable, but it’s cold in the room, and this couch isn’t what it used to be. “Laney?”
“What?” she snaps. She’s angry. She’s so cute when she’s angry.
“Suck it up, Princess Asshole.”
She sighs loudly as she shuffles around in her bed, and before she even offers, I’m on my feet, pillow in hand, walking toward her. “I’m the absolute opposite of mean, especially when it comes to you.”
I allow myself to smile because I know she can’t see me. Then I throw my pillow on her bed and climb under the covers with her. It’s a game we play, over and over. A game I always win. I turn to my side and face her back. “Laney?”
“I’m still cold. Can I cuggles?” Only with Laney would I ever use Lachlan’s toddler talk. Not just because it’s lame, but because she’s the only one who understands it.
She huffs, annoyed, but still, she scoots back until her body’s pressed against mine. I put one arm under her pillow and the other over her waist.
“You’re freezing,” she says, her tone clipped.
“Well, yeah, your room’s an ice chest.”
“You’re the most cold-blooded person I know.”
I laugh under my breath, pull her closer, use her body heat to warm me. “That’s an unfair assumption. How many guys have you let hold you like this?”
She doesn’t respond. In fact, she’s silent for so long I start to second-guess my words. Was that mean? Maybe it was. Even if it is true. “Sorry,” I say because I’ve been with enough girls to know that a single word can save any and all future drama.
“It’s fine. I need to sleep and you need to shut up.”
“Got it.” I shift closer.
“Did you drink tonight?” she asks.
“Yep. Three light beers. 435 calories. I should be able to burn it off tomorrow morning. Ten miles… fifteen minutes, plus what I normally run.”
She sighs. “Did you drive here?”
“If I drove, I’d have my keys, and if I had my keys, I would’ve let myself in and I wouldn’t have been standing—”
“Sorry I asked,” she cuts in.
“You’re so snappy tonight. What’s going on with you?”
She turns over and faces me, her eyes still closed. “I’m tired.”
Reaching behind me, I switch on the lamp, knocking her glasses off the nightstand. After replacing them, I turn back to her. And I try to read her—the same way I’ve seen my sister’s boyfriend do with her. “If something’s going on, you’d tell me, right?
Her eyes flutter open. First one, then the other. The corner of her lips lift, and I know I’ve said the right thing. Her forehead meets my chest and her toes tickle mine. The smell of her shampoo hits my nostrils: coconuts, lime, and Laney.
I don’t know how long we lie there, the lamp still on, my hand on her waist, her head on my chest before my stomach rumbles, slicing through the sound of our mixed breaths. She laughs once, her exhale warming me. “You hungry?” she asks, tilting her head back to look at me.
I’m not sure how much of me she can see without her glasses, but the contacts I’m wearing allow me to see all of her; the freckles across her nose, the scar below her right eyebrow, the fullness of her lips… I’ve tasted those lips. Accidentally, but it still counts. It was Christmas. We were fifteen. I went to kiss her cheek. She went to kiss mine. Our lips touched. She tasted like strawberries, and to this day I can’t look or smell a strawberry without thinking of Laney’s full lips.
“Huh?” Fuck, I’m a creep.
“You want me to make you something?”
I swallow loudly and look at anywhere but her. “Is that okay?”
Laney throws the covers off both of us, then reaches over me to get her glasses. “I’m awake now anyway.”
“You should make your own sandwiches,” she mumbles, cutting the bread in triangles as if I’m Lachlan. Her eyebrows are drawn. She’s annoyed. She’s cute when she’s annoyed. She’s cute always.
I swing my legs back and forth while I sit on the kitchen counter watching her. “Last time I did that, you almost puked at what I put in there.”