A/N: Three updates in a day; I'm on a roll. (I don't know how long it's going to last, so take it as it comes!) And I... don't have a reasonable explanation for this. Coyote Ugly was on Bravo last night and, well, I can't help but fall into that movie. So! You guys get some cheesy, shameless, romantic fluff, and I get a WONDERFUL flood of e-mails in my inbox. Siriusly: I love you all, and thank you so much for your reviews and alerts and favorites. I submit myself to silly movies for you guys! Keep it up!
For QS readers: the next chapter should be up sometime later today! For non-QS readers: Siobhan is an OC character in my little Quiet Summer universe. Everything else you should know :)
"I don't like to be alone in the night
And I don't like to hear I'm wrong when I'm right
And I don't like to have the rain on my shoes
But I do love you, but I do love you
I don't like to see the sky painted gray
And I don't like when nothing's going my way
And I don't like to be the one with the blues
But I do love you, but I do love you"
- LeAnn Rimes, "But I Do Love You"
It's raining again.
Siobhan is snoring. Dorcas is mumbling in her sleep. Mary is rolling around in her sheets, her legs kicking fitfully in a dream. I am awake, lying on my side underneath my heavy comforter, staring out of the window beside the bed I fought to claim. The stained glass looks like it's crying, water dripping down against the mosaic of colors and patterns. I envy it that. I don't know how to feel, while the weather, so constantly inconstant, can just let go at a moment's notice.
Today was wonderful, so why am I so conflicted? Why aren't I sleeping peacefully, dreaming of smiles and kisses and the taste of his breath on my lips? The ceiling is hardly as interesting as I turn onto my back, the back of my eyelids even less so when I clench my eyes shut. They're dry. It's hot. I can't get comfortable.
A little irritated, I throw back my covers and wince as my bare feet hit the cold floor. I don't know where I'm going, but I can't just lie here, wide-awake and annoyed, and wait for sleep to come. I know I could wake up Dorcas and have her sit up with me until I figure out what's bothering me, but she's had a long day, too, and I just don't have the heart.
I grab my wand for habit's sake before pushing the door open, casting a quiet "Silencio" as it creaks on its hinges. The stairwell is dark as I pad silently down the stone steps, the wall cool as I trail my fingers down the ancient stones. Surprisingly, the fire's still going in the common room. A quick glance around shows that nobody's around to enjoy it, and I sit down to keep it company, warming my fingers and toes. My cotton nightgown, reaching my knees and the tops of my shoulders, is a little thin for the fall draft, chilly when out of the protection of my thick comforter.
But even the fire isn't doing the trick. Reading won't do, either, and after pacing around, twirling my wand between my fingers, the entrance to the boy's stairwell catches my eye.
I don't think. My feet want to move and so they do, stepping quickly up the stairs until they reach the seventh year dorm. Resting my hand on the door makes me hesitate. This wouldn't be too forward, would it? I don't know what I plan to do once I open the door, but, well, they're all friends now: certainly they'd understand if I accidentally woke them?
It's silent as I enter, the small furnace in the middle of the room blazing. I've been in here before, but in the middle of the night it looks different, unfamiliar, like I shouldn't be intruding in their space, the place where they tell one another their secrets, the place where they plot and laugh and bond. Throw in a woman and it's transformed; an obvious black pebble sifting through a sea of white sand.
His bed is the second closest to the door, his curtains open on all sides. I feel like a stalker as I stand by the side of his bed, watching him sleep; it's not the most normal thing to do, but he's so much more calm in his sleep than he is when he's awake and animated, and I rarely get the chance to see him like this. It's a nice treat.
He senses that I'm there – he always senses when I'm around – and as his breath hitches a little, his eyes open and gradually focus on me.
I sit on the side of his bed, Siobhan's teasing voice in my ears: You are such a hussy.
"Yeah," I whisper. "It's me."
"What are you doing here?" he asks, his voice thick with sleep. He drags a hand from underneath his pillow and places it on my knee.
I smile even though he can't see it. "I couldn't sleep."
"C'mere," he says, scooting over to make space for me on his narrow bed.
It's when he pulls his comforter back that I see he's got no shirt on. My heart splutters, asking me frantically what the blazes I think I'm doing on his bed, in his room, on his bed, with my hand on his hand on my knee, on his bed. There's still that nag in the back of my head, though, that tells me this is where I wanted to be when I was lying in my own bed, unable to sleep. He's almost dozing again when I look across the room to the window, the rain sounding different from this side of the tower. I don't know what it's telling me, but I know it's not crying anymore, and so I crawl in between his sheets and draw the curtains of his bed shut, careful not to touch any part of his body with any part of mine.
"C'mon, it's getting cold under here," he complains, slinging an arm around my waist and pulling me flush against his bare chest.
The heat in my face is immediate. He nuzzles his face into my neck like this is something that happens every day, as if this were natural for him to be doing, pulling his modest girlfriend into his arms, in his bed. Our legs are all twisted up now, his pajama pants warm against my bare shins; I can feel his heart beating steady and smooth in his chest, his breath steady and smooth against my neck. I panic a little in my head. What was I thinking, sneaking into his room in the early hours of the morning?
He can feel the tension in my body and starts to rub little circles on my back. "Shh. Close your eyes."
I duck my head, embarrassed. Unfortunately there's nowhere to go, as he's absolutely everywhere, so I settle for pressing my forehead against his shoulder and closing my eyes. With the steady rain and the pressure of his hand against my back, eventually I'm able to calm myself into a state resembling composed. My hands are still at my sides, though, and I shift so that I have one underneath his pillow and one hovering hesitantly at his waist.
"Lily, seriously," he mumbles. There's a light kiss on my jaw. "Relax."
My hand falls. His skin is lovely underneath my fingers, our heat nice beneath his covers, and I smile against the warmth of his shoulder. I trace a little circle on his back and feel his responding smile, his husky laugh at the curve of my neck and shoulder. This is okay. I could definitely get used to this. Relax.
His hand slows on my back. I have the feeling he thinks he's dreaming. I almost wish I was, but the feeling in my chest is overwhelming and I almost want to cry at the feeling of it all. It comes out of nowhere, quick and sharp; his hand is splayed at the small of my back, his knees resting against mine, his face tucked into my neck, and as I lie here, breathing the same air, his curtains closed around us like our own little world, the rain dropping from the clouds outside, I know how I feel. I know what it is I've been trying to figure out for months now, the doubt in my heart and the new hesitance I thought I'd banished. It's not a horrible thought – I'm relieved to know it now – and it helps me to relax in his arms, feeling it all over like a third blanket against my skin.
"James," I whisper against his shoulder. He squeezes my hip to let me know he's listening. The darkness makes this easier to say, the cadence of his heartbeat lulling me into a relative safety, and it rolls off my tongue like the most powerful kind of magic, straight from the heart.
"I love you."
His heartbeat is still steady. Maybe I'm the one dreaming. But when he slowly pulls back and looks into my face, his unfocused eyes staring into my own, I begin to think otherwise. He places an unexpectedly chaste kiss against my lips and wraps both of his arms more firmly around my waist, the blankets covering all but our heads.
"I love you," he whispers. "Now go to sleep so I can hear it again when we wake up."
I sleep peacefully, dreaming of smiles and kisses and the taste of his breath on my lips, and am lucky to awake, the sun streaming through the windows, to the same.