It wasn't often that Lockwood and Co found ourselves relaxing at home in the evening, particularly on a long winter's night when all manner of spectres prowled the streets well into foggy morning. I sat, slumped in the armchair of the receiving room, reading the same cheap detective novel I'd read twice already. Lockwood dozed quietly on the chair opposite, his dark flop of hair concealing his eyes, long legs crossed on the ottoman before him. He wore a warm-colored jumper—slightly more casual than his usual getup—and grey woolen socks on his feet. I suppressed a stupid smile; I'd given him the socks the day before, on Christmas. Catching myself mid-stare, I stuck my nose firmly in my book again. George had been giving me knowing looks lately, and I didn't want to give him any more ammunition than he already had. As I thought of this, faint heat prickled slightly in my cheeks.
Thankfully, George paid me no attention tonight; he had pancaked his ample bottom next to the coffee table between us, where all his attentions were devoted to assembling a bothersome Rotwell ghost-detection do-dad. It was made of a light, coated silver, and its many parts tickled slightly, like tiny bells, whenever they moved. His back faced me. At the table's corner, the skull in the jar lurked unseen behind a fog of swirling green. It had been unusually quiet these past two hours, for which I was grateful. It was about time the damned thing started reading the atmosphere. Tonight was for relaxation, lukewarm tea, and amicable silence. I adjusted the quilt around my shoulders, sinking deeper into the armchair. The room was warm. A faint, comforting smell of brewed black tea lingered on the air. The tink, tink, tinkling of George's contraption—a minute, peripheral noise.
Despite myself, I found my gaze wandering towards the dozing Lockwood again, as it had numerous times that evening. I had detected something different about him, but until now I couldn't place what it was. Now I saw it with clarity.
His face had changed this past year. Though still slim, his jaw was squarer and more pronounced. At the same time, the shadows under his cheekbones had sharpened, masculinizing his once boyish features. I followed them down to his chin, my cheeks flushing a bit, to his slightly parted lips…
He sees you, you know.
I nearly jumped out of my chair, but weeks of avoiding accusatory stares from George saved me from having to explain myself. At the last second, I rolled over to make it seem as if I had merely decided to change into a more comfortable sitting position. George scratched his knee, unperturbed, his back still facing me. I felt my face redden. Lockwood…had seen me? My eyes locked with the skull in the jar's, barely visible behind a haze of green ghost fog. My expression said it all. It grinned evilly up at me.
It's true, he's caught you watching him through that flop of fringe. Probably feeling rather awkward by now, I would imagine. You haven't been very sly… The effect was immediate. I felt the blood drain from my face. My heart leaped to my throat. Oh, no. He can't have seen. I'd been practically ogling him on-and-off for the past hour- Lockwood can't have noticed. He was sleeping.
How embarrassing. Oh, you better conceal your mortification a bit better—he'll begin to clue in. Oh, looks like he already has.
I couldn't help it—I stole another glance. Was Lockwood…seated a tad straighter than he was a moment ago? I looked hurriedly away, and a wave of shame flooded through me again, setting my face on fire. I glued my eyes to my book. The skull was lying. It was just trying to upset me. Lockwood was definitely asleep.
Quite suddenly, Lockwood moved. He stood up. "I think I'll head to bed," he said, giving a quick stretch and not looking in my direction. George grunted something incomprehensible.
What did I tell you.
It was too much of a coincidence. I couldn't speak; my eyes could only look intently at the pages in front of me, which might as well have been blank for all the reading I was doing. Lockwood strode passed me, out of sight. The slight change of air pressure in the room told me he had opened the door behind me. He was gone.
I felt myself go a bit numb. The metal ghost detection do-dad gave tiny chimes from the coffee table. I heard George scratch something on a piece of paper. The tinkling sound of his fiddling intensified, and he cursed under his breath. I waited. Then a tidal wave of shame and dread coursed through me, and my body weighed down in the armchair like bags of salt. The reality might as well have slapped me in the face: Lockwood had caught me staring at him and was so uncomfortable he had felt the need to leave the room. I put my hand up to my temple, concealing my burning face.
Suddenly, the pressure in the room changed again. Without sound or other forewarning, there was a warm, tickling breath in my ear and slim fingers smoothing along my jaw: "So sorry, Luce," breathed Lockwood, his voice hardly audible even to myself, "Nearly forgot-" Just as suddenly as he had entered the study, his lips pressed softly and deliberately against my cheek. Time stopped. He smelled faintly of cologne. His eyelashes brushed gently under the delicate skin of my eye. I heard my breath hitch in my throat and realized my eyes had closed. He lingered for a second longer, and parted. I felt his warm breath on my cheek again, "Night, Lucy." And then the slim fingers were absent from my face, and the pressure in the room changed for the final time that evening.
Oblivious, George continued to sit with his back facing me and the door, the tinkling of his Rotwell contraption seemingly never ceasing. In the jar, the skull's jaw had dropped to the bottom of the glass. Judging from its reaction, what had just happened…was real. Not for the first time that evening, my face and neck were set aflame—but this time, from a different kind of embarrassment.
"Hey," George said, speaking for the first time in hours, "Mind making another cuppa—"
"Let it alone, George!" I snapped.
George turned around then, his expression utterly confused. "What's your problem?"
Though it seemed impossible, I felt my face grow hotter. "Nothing. Sorry. I just," I shot up from my chair, my detective novel tumbling from my lap. I ignored it. "I-I'm going to bed." And just like that, I left him there, hunched over the coffee table, mouth hanging open. So much for not giving George any more ammunition, I thought. As I hurried my way up the dark stairwell and into my attic bedroom, I wondered if Lockwood had felt the burning heat in my face against his lips, and then I slammed my bedroom door against such embarrassing thoughts.