Bright pulled the postcard out from among the pages of his textbook and squinted down at it for possibly the millionth time. He knew it was pointless, but he refused to give up. He frowned and leaned closer.
"Hello? Earth to Bright," Amy called out. When her brother didn't respond, she reached out and snatched the card from his hand.
"Hey!" he exclaimed, trying to grab it back.
"I'd appreciate your attention. There are a lot of other things I could be doing right now."
"Yeah, like what? Watching 'Laguna Beach' for the thousandth time?" Bright retorted.
Amy narrowed her eyes at him. "I certainly didn't plan to spend my entire summer sitting around in your apartment," she said, looking around at the room. "You don't even have furniture."
"Since when do bean bags not count as furniture?" Bright shot back, offended.
"They're lumpy," Amy said, shifting uncomfortably. "What did you do, stuff them yourself?"
"Ha-ha. This, coming from the girl who squealed like an annoying little puppy when she saw them?"
"The novelty wore off when I lost the feeling in my legs."
"Whatever," Bright dismissed, eyeing the postcard in her hand and trying to figure out the quickest way to get it back.
Noticing where his gaze had gone, Amy glanced at the card. "What is this anyway?"
"Do not look at that," Bright ordered.
"Why not?" Amy asked, letting her eyes scan over it.
"Amy," Bright warned angrily.
A wide grin spread across her face. "Ohhh," she sang. "It's from Hannah."
Bright jerked forward and yanked the beanbag out from under his sister, sending her to the floor with a painful-sounding thud.
"Ow! Bright!" she exclaimed, rubbing her hip.
Taking advantage of her distraction, he grabbed the postcard back out of her hand.
"God! You're ridiculous, you know that?" Amy glared. "It doesn't even say anything."
"It does too," Bright said quickly, without thinking. He held the postcard up and pointed at where some of the text had been scribbled out. "I just can't read it," he finished irritably.
The smile reappeared on Amy's face.
"It isn't funny," he stated. "It's driving me crazy."
"Aw, Bright," Amy teased, positioning the beanbag back under her. "That's really sweet."
"Don't give me your goopy 'I just saw 'Love, Actually'' look, or I won't turn my head when I throw up."
"Give me the postcard," Amy ordered, holding out her hand.
Bright's eyes widened. "Are you serious? No!"
"Do you wanna know what it says or not?" she asked, shaking her outstretched hand back and forth.
With an uncertain look on his face, he looked down at her hand and then back up at her.
"In five seconds, I rescind the offer," Amy warned him. "Five, four, three…"
"Fine," he decided, thrusting the postcard at her.
Amy gave him a satisfied smile and peered down at it again. After a long moment, she nodded slowly. "Hmmm… very interesting," she intoned.
"What? What does it say?" he asked quickly.
She looked up at Bright and gave him a sympathetic smile before handing the postcard back over. "Sorry, I can't tell you that."
"Hannah's my friend, and if she didn't want you to know what it said, then I'm afraid I can't tell you either."
"I'm your brother!" Bright reminded her.
"Sorry, Bright," Amy said. She stood up and brushed her hands across the backs of her jeans. "I wish there was something I could do. I'm afraid my hands are tied."
He lunged at her, but this time, she was prepared. She grabbed the beanbag off the floor and hurled it at him. He dodged it, but she had time to weave around him and pick up his chair as well. She smacked him in the stomach with it, but, after years of football, it didn't faze him. He grabbed the bag from her hands and held it in the air, preparing to strike.
Amy raised her hands defensively and said quickly, "If you hit me with that, I'm telling Hannah that you made out with at least three girls this summer."
He lowered the bag just a little and looked at her. "You wouldn't do that."
She raised an eyebrow at him. "Sure 'bout that, buddy?"
"You'd lie to your best friend?"
"I don't know, Bright," she answered, considering what he'd said. "I guess it could go either way. Test me," she finished with a smirk.
After a long moment, Bright threw the beanbag on the ground. "You suck, you know that?"
Amy reached out and patted his cheek. "And Hannah's made you a big softie," she teased, flopping down onto the chair. Spotting the postcard where it had fallen to the ground, she picked it up and held it out to Bright. "Here."
He mumbled a 'thank you' and shoved it back between his textbook's pages.
"I wouldn't have lied to Hannah like that," she assured him, feeling bad all of sudden.
Bright looked up at her and nodded. "But you would tell her I creamed you with a beanbag."
"Probably," Amy agreed.
Bright shook his head. "I don't know why I ever thought it was a good idea to date your best friend."
Amy giggled and looked down at his notebook. "All right, next question…"
The next day, after another sleepless night and a morning of screening potential roommates, Bright answered the intercom to let up Candidate Number 573. "'Yello?'" he said.
A pretty voice chimed out in return. "Hi. Is this Bright Abbott?"
"Yeah. One second, and I'll let you up." He pressed the button and waited.
A minute later, there was a knock on his door. Not bothering to look out the peephole, he pulled it open… and found himself face-to-face with a leggy, thin, immaculately tanned blonde.
He flashed his best smile. "Hey."
"Hi," she smiled back, holding out her hand. "Veronica."
He reached out to shake her hand and was surprised when she used it to pull him forward slightly so she could kiss him on the cheek.
"But you can call me 'Ronny,'" she added.
He nodded and held the door open so she could walk in. "Ronny? That's cute."
She smiled and glanced around the apartment. "Shut up!" she exclaimed. "You have bean bag chairs! I've always wanted one of these!" She hurried forward and flopped into one, causing her skirt to rise up a little and bare some of her thigh.
Bright's eyes started to trail up from her high-heeled sandals, but then, abruptly, he stopped himself.
"Let me show you around," he said quickly, gesturing over his shoulder.
She nodded then looked down at herself helplessly. "Help me up?"
He walked over and held out his hands. She slipped hers into his, massaging his palm with her thumb. Fighting old familiar urges, he pulled her to a standing position then quickly removed his hands from hers.
"Thanks," she said shyly.
He gave her a weak smile. "So, over here is the kitchen," he began, leading her in its direction.
She scanned it for less than a second before turning back to him. "Do you cook?"
"Me?" he asked, already shaking his head. "No, definitely not."
"I'm a great cook," she stated. "Do you like Italian?"
"I like pretty much anything," he said vaguely.
"You must work out."
"Uh, yeah. Why?" he asked.
"It's just… you like to eat, but you're really in shape."
"Yeah, right," he nodded. "Over here is the bathroom," he said, flicking on the light so she could see it.
"Big tub," she commented.
"Not a lot of hot water though," he said. "I've been working on the landlord about that."
"Take a lot of cold showers, huh?" she asked, raising an eyebrow.
"You have no idea," he mumbled, turning the switch back to 'off.'
He walked her further down the hallway. "This would be your bedroom," he explained. "It's small, but it gets better reception."
"Cool," she replied absently. "Where's your room?"
"Oh," he answered, glancing over his shoulder. "It's at the end of the hall."
She looked at him expectantly, but he didn't seem to take the hint. When he started to lead her back down the hallway towards the living room, she blurted out, "Can I see it?"
"Your room… just so I can get the full picture."
"Uh, yeah, sure," he agreed. He scooted around her, ignoring the way she angled herself so their shoulders brushed.
"This is it," he said, pushing the door open.
She strolled in and looked around. "It's nice. Really nice." Without asking, she sat down on his bed and took it all in. "It could definitely use a woman's touch though."
As she said that, Bright immediately got an idea. "Hey, you're a woman," he said abruptly.
Ronny blinked at him. "Well, yeah, I thought that was obv…"
Bright grabbed the postcard from his desk and brought it over to her. "You chicks all have the same crazy ideas, so maybe you can figure this out," he said, holding it out. "It looks like she started to write something, but then she crossed it out," he explained, showing her where Hannah had written.
Ronny looked up at Bright and then down at the postcard, taking it from his hand. She flipped it over and looked at the picture. "Minnesota? Who goes to Minnesota for vacation?"
Frustrated, Bright moved her hand so she was looking at the right side again. "Can you read that?" he repeated.
"Yeah," she said. "It says 'Hi.' And then there's a smiley face. And then it says 'Hannah.'"
Bright sighed. "Not that… this part." He pointed at the scribble again.
"Oh my God, that reminds me," Ronny exclaimed. "Have you ever been on a Jamaican cruise?"
Bright looked up from the postcard and met Ronny's eyes. "What?"
"A cruise? They're so romantic. Big boat, sunse—"
"You know what?" Bright interrupted. "I don't think this is gonna work out."
"What?" Ronny asked, confused.
"Thanks for taking a look at the apartment," Bright continued. "But I've decided to go a different direction."
"What do you mean?" she asked, even as Bright motioned her up and led her back out to the living room.
"Good luck with your apartment search," he said, holding the door open for her.
Baffled, Ronny stared at him as she walked out.
"Have a nice day," Bright finished, shutting the door behind her.
Then, without another thought, he walked towards the kitchen, staring down at the postcard he still held in his hand.
"You want what?" Amy asked.
Bright sighed. "You're not actually gonna make me say it again, are you?"
"Yes," Amy said simply.
"Just get me the glitter and markers, Amy."
She grinned. "I seriously can't even recognize you anymore. It's scary."
"Not as scary as I'm gonna be if you don't get me the damn glitter and the markers."
"Fine, fine. But I'm doing this for Hannah, not you."
"And because I think this new Bright is too adorable for words," she finished.
Bright gave her a blank look, so she smiled again and went to get the art supplies out of her room.
While she was gone, Bright lifted the large square of white tag-board onto the kitchen table and stared at it, developing a plan.
A few minutes later, Amy reappeared and set the plastic container full of supplies in front of him. "Here you go, Casanova," she teased.
"Thanks," he said sarcastically.
She smiled and sat down on the stool across from him.
"What are you doing?"
"I'm watching," she explained.
"Uh… no, you're not."
"Yes, I am," she stated firmly. "Those are my supplies. Therefore, I get to act as audience to the creation of your masterpiece."
"Remember last week when you said that you'd tell Hannah I'd kissed three girls this summer?"
Amy grinned at the memory. "Of course."
"What if I told Ephram the same thing next time he calls?"
"Ephram wouldn't believe I kissed three girls this summer."
"You know what I mean," Bright retorted. "Don't act like I don't have leverage."
Amy paused and stared at her brother. "Did you just use the word 'leverage'?"
"Yeah, why?" Bright frowned. "Wrong context?"
"No. No, not at all."
Bright smiled and looked down at his tag-board. "Cool."
"Wow," Amy said, amazed.
He met her eyes. "What?"
"Nothing. I just – I'm really impressed, Bright."
He looked for sarcasm on her face but was surprised to find none.
Making a decision, she slid off the stool. "I'll leave you to your sign-making."
Amy nodded and headed out of the room, but, before leaving, she paused by the door. "Hannah's really going to love that," she assured him.
Bright watched her leave the room, and then he flipped the cap off from one of the markers.
Two hours later, the sign was complete. He leaned back and admired it, a small smile creeping onto his face. Then, he grabbed a black marker off the table and bent forward to add the last, finishing touch.
Hannah's flight was supposed to arrive at 1:30 in the afternoon. Bright glanced at his watch and saw the hand inch towards 2. The delay was driving him mad. He sighed and leaned against the wall, holding his sign so no one else in the airport could see it.
This was ridiculous. He wasn't sure, but he thought he might be nervous. His stomach felt weird. Kind of like it used to feel before a big game, except slightly worse. At first, he'd thought he was just hungry, but after a burger at the airport restaurant, he'd proved that idea wrong. He was definitely nervous. He just didn't know why.
He pulled the postcard out of his pocket and looked at it again. Before he had time to think worst case scenarios though, the speaker system came on, announcing the arrival of flight 79 from Minnesota. He shoved the card back into his pocket and stepped forward.
Ten long minutes later, he saw the passengers start to emerge through the gates. He scanned their faces quickly, searching for a pretty girl with long, curly hair and glasses. As yet another grandmotherly type walked by, he sighed disappointedly, and then he saw her…
Her hair was longer. Her skin slightly tanned. But otherwise, she looked just like she had when he'd last seen her. Not able to resist smiling, he held up his sign and waited for her to spot him.
He knew the moment she did… because, as he'd expected, her face turned ten shades of red. His smile turned into a full-fledged grin. He watched her hesitate then look around helplessly. He saw her trying to find an escape route, and he could pinpoint the exact moment when she knew she had no choice but to walk towards him.
With her carry-on slung over her shoulder, she slowly approached. When she was mere feet away, she opened her mouth to say something, but before she had a chance, he wrapped his free arm around her and lifted her up where he could reach her lips. As he kissed her, he could feel her contented sigh, and he smiled against her lips. She smiled back. He pulled away but immediately had to kiss her again.
After a long moment, he lowered her back onto the ground but kept his arm wrapped loosely around her waist.
"I like the sign," she said, her cheeks reddening slightly again.
He smiled and held it out where they could both see it. It was bright and flashy, full of glitter and stars. And in the middle, in the best handwriting he could manage, he'd written "Welcome Home, Hannah," and then completely scribbled it out with a black magic marker.