Declan and I didn’t arrange a definite time to meet, but we exchanged text messages for the rest of the day. And the next day. And the day after. Every day, he was the first to get in touch, and from around nine in the morning until well past ten or eleven at night, we kept the conversations going – mostly light-hearted and friendly, but occasionally crossing into personal, family stuff, and then onto flirty and almost obscene. With every new message, I wanted to see him more. I knew it would probably be the weekend before it happened, and that was okay with me. It gave me more time to mentally prepare myself so I didn’t turn into a wibbly mess in his presence. I’d learned more about him during those messages than in the whole seven years when we’d been forced to spend at least one hour a day together, usually many more.
It was getting impossible for me to deny the attraction, which baffled me even more. Physically, Declan wasn’t unattractive, but he was no Ryan Gosling either. He was average-looking, and I’d never in my life looked at him and imagined how it would feel to have his hands on me until recently. Well, I’d considered it during our previous text phase, but never as strongly as now. Sometimes, especially at night, my brain drifted off into short fantasies, where I imagined how it would feel to be pressed against him. Not just the gentle touch I had from him when we kissed, but to have my body right up against his, his lips on my neck, my shoulders… everywhere. Then my curious side would kick in. The side that didn’t understand why he was suddenly attractive to me now. Muscles aside, he didn’t look any different. Of course, I then reminded myself how I’d always been drawn to him in some way. The difference was our age. We’d grown up, and he was allowing me to know him. I got the impression that aside from Lucas, I was the only person he’d let in. It didn’t matter why he chose me, but I wanted to listen. To discover more.
In between getting to know Declan better, I spent a lot of time lounging around in my enormous, comfortable bed, and hanging out with Kara. She was finding it weird to be apart from Lucas since they’d returned to their respective homes. Both Kara and Lucas had family obligations to fulfil, limiting their time together, but on a completely selfish note, it was really nice to have Kara to myself for a while.
On Thursday afternoon, we spent some time at her place, eating her mum’s homemade cookies. Bliss. It was pretty much the first time we'd had to ourselves since we came home, so naturally, she wanted to dissect the events of our party. I didn't want to share whatever I felt for Declan with her, because so far, it was based on very little. Well, very little that had happened recently, anyway.
“I fail as a best friend,” Kara announced, balancing the tray of chocolate chip cookies on her knee so we didn't have to keep leaning over every time we wanted another. It had been so frequent, my abs hurt. Not a bad thing considering the calories we were putting away, but neither Kara or I wanted to work out while we were eating.
“What do you mean?” I asked, already sensing where this was going.
She nudged me in the ribs with her elbow. “You know what I mean. A good best friend would have called you as soon as possible on Sunday after what happened on Saturday night.”
“Nothing happened that you didn't see, Kara.”
“Maybe not, but what I did see was pretty bloody surprising!”
“You saw a dare.”
“I saw Dec kiss you like he might die if he stopped! So... what's going on?”
So it looked as amazing as it felt? Excellent!
I imagined my face glowed brighter than Rudolph's nose, but I truly had nothing to tell her. I didn't have a clue what was going on myself. “Like I said, you saw everything that happened. He kissed me one time, and that's all.”
“I thought Meg was going to kill you. She wanted him bad.”
So did I.
Meg and I never had the same taste in men, so it was strange to me that Dec triggered her lady parts. Of course, technically, he wasn't my type, either.
“Not sure why,” I said. “She didn't bother getting to know him, she just...decided.”
“But you do know him. From where I stood, it looked as though you... enjoyed it?”
Blushing more furiously than ever, I distracted myself by taking another cookie. “It wasn't terrible,” I admitted. “But after everything... you know, how he was before... I don't know. The idea of being friends with him is still pretty odd to me.”
“You've always been friends, Eden. Even when he was awful to you, he was there when you needed him. Or have you forgotten?”
I hadn't forgotten. I held onto the one piece of genuine kindness he showed me during our school years because it was the only way I could justify feeling anything other than hatred for him. Even back then, I'd spotted occasional moments of a softer side to him, but they were so rare. Rare enough that I forced myself to believe he was a one-dimensional, heartless idiot. It was the only way I could make myself stop wishing for a do-over on that first kiss.
“He saved you, Eden.”
When I was sixteen, my social circle wasn't very big. It literally consisted of Kara, Lucas and Declan. One weekend, Kara and Lucas had gone away with Lucas' parents, and it was that weekend that my Grandma, my only remaining grandparent died. She'd sometimes been closer to me than my mum, since Mum always had to work and my Grandma took care of me when Mum couldn't. Mum fell apart, and I did, too. While she didn't want to talk, I needed to and Kara wasn't there. I didn't seek Declan out because I didn't believe he'd care. However, Lucas called him and told him what had happened, and he came to my house immediately. He wasn't so good with saying all the right things, but I didn't need him to talk. He stayed with me in my room, holding onto me while I cried and said everything I needed to say. He made countless cups of tea for both me and my mum, and every time he came back to me, he just pulled me back into his arms and held me again.
His caring for me didn't last long enough. He was kind for a while, but as soon as I started to heal, he went back to his usual self, making me wonder if Declan was actually the evil twin of the boy who took such good care of me.
I changed the subject, eager to steer away from the topic of Declan. It didn't stay away from him for long, though. An hour or so later, Lucas called, asking if Kara and I wanted to go to the cinema on Friday night. Apparently, it was Declan's idea, and he wanted to know if I'd be going.
I was only slightly put-out that he didn’t ask me himself. Mostly, I was just glad I’d get to see him. Nice as the texting was, sometimes it was like having a “virtual friend” who lived only inside my phone. I needed to see him face to face. Needed to check whether the chemistry was real, not just something created through the excitement of anticipation. Maybe it would all fizzle out when we saw each other in person.
Either way, I had to find out.
I met Kara and Lucas outside the cinema, and we quickly joined the queue of people waiting to buy their tickets. We’d decided on the latest Christmas rom-com. Lucas chose it, possibly in the hopes of keeping Kara happy, but I knew he secretly loved chick flicks. I doubted they were Declan’s thing, but maybe… perhaps it might mellow him a little.
“Where is Dec?” Kara asked, rising up onto her tiptoes to see the entrance through the throng of movie-goers. “He’s not usually late.”
Music to my ears. Lateness was my ultimate pet peeve. However, he was late, and since I had only heard from him once during the day, I started to wonder if he’d backed out.
The queue shuffled forward slowly, and when we were just a few people from the front, Lucas' phone buzzed.
I could predict what he was going to say before he even opened his mouth.
“Dec's not coming. He got held up at work.”
My heart sank, but I covered my disappointment with a smile. “More popcorn for us.”
Kara eyed me, and I'm sure she saw the truth in my eyes, no matter how hard I tried to hide it. This cinema trip was Dec's idea, and I'd waited what seemed like forever to see him in the flesh, to see how things would be between us. He didn't even text me to tell me he wasn't coming. I mean, I knew it wasn't a date or anything, but he had to know I was looking forward to seeing him. Or maybe not. Maybe he didn't have any idea how I felt. Maybe he knew and he was just messing with me.
Maybe I think too much.
The evening was pretty much a bust for me. The movie was fine, what I saw of it while flicking between daydreaming about seeing Declan, and telling myself I'd gotten carried away – again – with a few flirty messages, and I should just forget about him. Stop answering his messages, and just enjoy the holidays.
That plan went out the window when I got home. I was lying in bed, trying to force myself to sleep, when my phone buzzed beside my head.
Declan Fox: How was the movie?
It was gone eleven, I'd been home for more than hour and now he wanted to chat? Knowing I was a complete pushover, I moved my fingers over my phone's keypad: It was fine. Shame you missed it.
Declan Fox: I'm sorry. Work was a bitch today. Had a last minute job that took longer than expected. Couldn't be arsed to go out in the cold again once I got in.
So, I wasn't worth going out for. Noted.
I threw my phone down on my pillow with an irritated sigh. I was more irritated with myself than him. I had to stop tormenting myself this way. Declan Fox was just a guy. Nothing more, nothing less. We were friends at best. No point getting all huffy over him missing a movie. I'd see him around sometime, no big deal.
A long pause followed, and I figured the conversation was done, so I put my phone down again and curled into my duvet, ready to go to sleep. Just as my eyelids began to flutter....
“Oh for God's sake.”
I groped around my pillows until I touched my phone, and forced my eyes open.
Declan Fox: R u busy tomorrow night? U wanna come over? We could watch a movie?
Oh. Sort of worth waking up for but... it could have waited until the morning.
Me: We were supposed to watch a movie tonight...
Declan Fox: I said sorry. Tomorrow it'll just be you and me.
I'd internally mocked Meg over Declan triggering her lady parts, but with those simple words, mine awoke at the idea of being alone with him. Nothing would happen, probably. But the possibility was enough to stir up my insides. He offered me what I wanted. A chance to be with him, so in spite of me just telling myself to give it up, I had to go.