"Okay. Are you ready?"
"Are you sure?"
"Are you really sure? Come on, give it to me straight. Are you really ready, Harley?"
"Oh my god. Just do it already!"
"I'm serious. Are you-"
"If you ask me that one more time I'm going to hit you."
"Jesus, Harley. Harsh. I'm trying to be a nice guy here."
"Let go already!"
Dave stepped backwards, hands leaving her waist. He took a few quick steps back and watched as Jade shakily stood upright. She swayed dangerously and outstretched her arms to try and steady her balance. Once or twice she nearly toppled over the other side of the narrow stone wall she was standing on but miraculously she recovered each time until she was no longer swaying. The balance wasn't perfect and she was still shaking somewhat, bare feet rocking back and forth. She stared determinedly at them, brows furrowed and lower lip sucked between her teeth in concentration. It was the cutest face and Dave was staring at her absently before her voice snapped "Hurry up!" and he jolted back into action.
He backed away even more and the sun's sinking rays cast golden light into his eyes. Even through his shades he squinted a little. He changed angles a few times and there, finally he had it. Pushing his shades up on his head, Dave took the camera swaying around his neck and snapped a picture. He snapped several more in rapid session, changed positions and took even more. He snapped as many as he could from all the angles he could think of before Jade finally succumb and lost her balance. She squeaked and toppled over the other side of the small wall, disappearing in the tall grass.
Although the drop wasn't that far Dave still winced and felt a swell of concern. He pulled his shades back over his eyes and trotted over to her, camera back to dangling precariously around his neck. Peering over the wall her saw her sitting there in a heap, glasses askew and hair disheveled. There were even a few blades of long grass poking out of it. She looked entirely unamused and Dave tried not to laugh.
"Anything bruised, broken or bleeding down there, Harley?"
"Just my butt, but I'll survive."
"Well damn. I can thoroughly inspect it for you and make sure, if you want."
Dave darted sideways as a small rock whizzed past his ear. Jade puffed her cheeks out at him but he noted with no small amount of satisfaction that said cheeks were pink. Well, it could have been because of the heat. Not in Dave's mind though.
"But seriously. Are you okay?"
"I'm fiiiine. I'm tougher than I look, jeez. Did you get your picture?"
Jade plucked some grass from her hair and rolled her eyes up at him. The wall she had been balancing on was at the top of a small incline and it winded its way around the perimeter. Dave leaned over it on his arms and peered down into the tall, untamed grass patch she had tumbled into. It was a very narrow wall, not at all fit for anyone to stand or sit on. A warm breeze disturbed the blades and they bent submissively in its wake.
"Good, but why here?"
Dave shrugged one shoulder dismissively. "I like taking pictures."
"I knoooow," Jade drawled. "But why this spot? Come on, tell me!"
"Well. I don't know. Photographers take pictures of things they think are cool looking. I was here once at sunset and I liked the way it looked."
Jade scrunched up her face and seemed to be debating on whether or not that was an acceptable answer. Dave shot her a flat look and Jade responded by sticking out her tongue.
"Okay, wise guy. Then why was I in it?"
"Hey, why don't you stop sitting in the grass and come back to civilization over here," Dave replied evasively.
"Don't make me come down there."
"Answer my question!"
Dave grimaced inwardly. Outwardly? As chill as ever. Without thinking he replied quickly, "It didn't matter who. It was a silhouette photo. It could've been anyone."
"Oh," Jade replied. She looked crestfallen and Dave mentally kicked himself.
He meant to say something to remedy it, to make up for what he'd just said, but the moment past and she was already climbing to her feet. She brushed more grass from her long, white dress. She made her way up the small incline and Dave outstretched his hand for her to grab. She did so and he helped her over the wall and back to the more tamed side of the field they were currently exploring. Maybe he held her hand a few seconds longer than was necessary, too. She bent to slip her shoes back on and he had to let her hand fall away.
Jade turned her head and smiled softly, admiring the last of the sunset. The colors in the sky had started to fade at last. The oranges and reds had started to bleed into darkness. The moon was a fingernail and already hung above their heads. Stars began to blink to life and somewhere on the outskirts of the field a nightingale started to sing in celebration of the nights arrival. The warm breeze of the day grew cooler and as they slowly strolled back to the gravel path they enjoyed all the sights, smells and sounds around them.
The managed to make it back to the dimly lit part of the walkway before it became too dark to see anything. Jade paused once they did and tilted her head back to stare at the sky. Dave paused beside her and shoved his hands into the pockets of his jeans. He watched her instead while she watched the sky.
"Why did you want to take so many pictures today?" She questioned absently.
Dave shrugged. "I was in the mood. Why did you follow me around the whole time?"
Head still tilted back, she turned it slightly and her eyes fell on him. She smiled, mischievous and coy all at once and it irritated him that she had no idea what her smile did to him. "Why not? I've never seen you take your pictures before. You show me all these photo albums and they're really good! But you never tell me anything about them. They're just there."
"They speak for themselves. If you can't tell the story with the picture then you're doing it wrong," Dave grouched. "What do you want me to do, write the life story of whatever's in the image? This is Jade standing on a wall. Afterward she fell on her ass. It was hilarious. The end."
Jade laughed and dropped her head forward, shaking it. "Okay, okay… Are you going back?"
"Probably. Aren't you?"
"Nope!" Jade turned on her heel to face him, smiling. She lifted her hand and waggled her fingers at him in a half-hearted wave.
"Whoa, is Harley ditching me? My whole world as I knew it is crumbling."
"Hehehe. Get lost already, Strider," She teased. "I just have something I wanna do. I'll be back later."
Dave shrugged and watched her back as she retreated back down the path. He thought of following, felt a twinge of worry that she'd be out there in the dark by herself. He squashed it irritably and left in the opposite direction. The path winded back towards the small cottage they were staying in. He entered noisily and was greeted with the quiet glow of the interior lighting. He wandered down the short hall and into the living area. John and Rose lounged on the couch. John sat on one side and Rose was sprawled out, bare feet resting in his lap. She quietly flipped a page in the book she was engrossed in.
"Hey, your back!" John greeted cheerfully.
"Accurate observation," Dave deadpanned as he approached them.
Rose did not acknowledge him so he slowly lifted his camera at her.
"Do it and I will be sure to cause you great discomfort for the duration of our vacation."
Dave snorted but lowered the camera. Rose finally lowered her book and quirked an eyebrow at him. "Where is Jade?"
"Dunno. Said she had shit to do."
John scrunched up his face disapprovingly. "You let her go by herself? It's dark."
"Jade's a big girl. She can handle herself."
John still looked concerned but Dave ignored it. Instead he settled on the single, plushy chair in the corner and began scrolling through all the pictures on his camera. The room was quiet sans the beeps as he scrolled and the occasional page flip from Rose. John seemed content with doing nothing but staring at the wall. He was anxious, though. Dave could tell. It was suffocating the atmosphere. He was probably still concerned about Jade.
"She'll be fine, for fuck's sake," Dave grumbled when he finally couldn't take it.
John shot him a look. "What's wrong with you? You'd never let her wander away by herself like that unless she beat you off with a stick. Did you fight?"
"No. Nothing's wrong."
His gaze darted sharply at Rose. She was watching him, violet eyes peeking up from over the edge of her book. Attention back at John he added, "Go look for her if you're worried."
"I think I might…"
The phone in the kitchen rang. There was a pause and when Dave and Rose made no moves John sighed dramatically. Rose removed her feet so he could stand and he shuffled quickly out of the room to answer it. Rose was still watching Dave and he pointedly ignored her. At least, for awhile. Then he grew annoyed and stared back at her. She was giving him That Look. He hated that look. That look of near pity, sympathy and the slightest hint of concern.
The problem was Jade. The problem with that problem was that she wasn't exactly single anymore. Unavailable, taken, et cetera. Dave had marked every word in his head on all the different ways to say "not mine" and that was really all there was to say on the matter. Because he was too chicken shit to say anything or to figure out his own feelings or maybe all of the above he'd lost his chance. Friendzoned forever, that's him. It left a bitter taste in his mouth.
Rose returned her gaze to her open book. "If you continue to say nothing it will only cause further distress. It would really be in your best interests and health to at least admit it to her. It's really rather ironic, don't you think so?"
"Oh goddammit, Rose. Stop. Stop psychoanalyzing me right now."
"It's much like that movie John forced me to watch. The dashing protagonist falls for the unpopular heroine, a childhood friend, but is far too cool to admit his burning passion."
"Tragically he misses his opportunity because he was too concerned for his image and all is lost. He finds himself alone, desperate, sad… needy."
"… Okay, this is even worse than that. Rose. Rose, you're the cruelest witch. The coldest bitch that ever existed. Also, you're making this up. There's no movie like that."
"My point is," Rose continued without missing a beat, "is that it's pathetic to watch you flounder around like a headless fish-"
"Wow. Thanks for that."
"-and as your older sister I decree that you must at least tell her the truth."
Dave scoffed. "Bullshit you're older."
Rose lowered her book and fixed him with what Dave called her "Shanking Stare". He was never intimidated by it. (Okay, maybe a little.) "That is not the point here, David."
"Oh, fuck you. Don't call me that and no, I'm not talking about this right now. So shut up."
Dave stood and stormed out angrily. Rose did not protest nor try to stop him. He knew how she operated and he knew she had won the argument because she had lodged what she had said into his brain. She'd put it there, made sure he had heard it even against his will and thus had no choice but to acknowledge it was there, and that's how she won arguments like that. Now it was on his mind and he was angry. Livid. Pissed. He put his camera away and then paced his designated bedroom furiously. He resisted the urge to punch the wall and toss the chair. He didn't want to be thinking about this. Not now, not here. It was on his mind enough. He didn't need this now too.
He couldn't tell Jade. He wasn't exactly the same selfish thirteen year old he had once been. What would telling Jade now accomplish? Nothing. Nothing but hurting and confusing her. She was happy with… that guy. That guy whom Dave refused to ever acknowledge by name. She was happy. Let her be happy. He had no right to take that from her.
Dave faceplanted on his bed and did not move.
He must've fallen asleep because suddenly he was jolted awake by the loud rattling of thunder and the brightest flash of lightning. He blinked, shades falling off as he picked up his head. They had been knocked askew when he'd flopped on the bed. It was dark in his room but he could see light coming from underneath his door. What time was it? He rolled off the bed, leaving his shades and stared blearily out the window. A fierce summer storm. There would surely be damage out in the fields.
Dave's mind screeched to a halt. Jade. Had she come back?
He bolted off the bed, forgot his shades entirely, and hurriedly threw open his door. His forehead collided with John's and they both howled in pain at the contact.
"Jesus fuck, Egbert! What are you doing, hanging outside my bedroom door like a creeper?"
John winced and rubbed the welt on his forehead. He scowled. "No! Dude, I was just about to wake you up. We still don't know where Jade is!"
Dave's stomach knotted. "Shit. She still isn't back? Didn't you go look for her?"
"I did but I never found her. I thought she'd just wander back on her own, but if she's outside in that storm…"
"Both of you, calm down," Rose called and she appeared in the hall behind John. "I'm sure Jade was smart enough to find shelter if she was caught in this. She survived by herself on her island for her entire life, yes?"
"That doesn't mean shit," Dave snapped and bolted past the both of them.
"Whoa, hey!" John protested. He whirled around and Rose stepped aside as Dave went barreling past. "You can't go out there either!"
"What do you want me to do, sit here on my ass and twiddle my thumbs? I'm a man of action."
"And a man of quick-temper and idiocy," Rose deadpanned.
"Shut up, I'm going."
He was halfway to the door when it slammed open and made all three of them jump. Speak of the devil, there was Jade. Soaked to the bone and haggard but nevertheless standing in the doorway unharmed.
"Jade!" John cried in relief. "Oh man, we were so worried!"
Dave stared until Rose whacked him on the back of the head. There was an awkward pause as both Dave and John realized simultaneously that Jade's summer dress was soaked through and since it was unfortunately white… well. A few minutes later both of them were sitting in the living room with their heads bowed like scolded dogs.
"You were totally ogling my sister," John grumbled over the sound of rain and thunder.
He had most certainly not been-Okay, yes. Maybe just a little. Dave could not be blamed for it, though. He'd known Jade since they were thirteen and since then all four of them had grown up. Jade more so though perhaps that was only because Dave had paid the most attention to her changes. She'd grown up, the lanky and somewhat clumsy figure of a child fleshed out with curves. More defined hips, a flatter stomach, breasts and so forth donned her like it did for every young woman. Dave couldn't remember why, when or even how he'd noticed it but he did one day and after that there had been no turning back. Ever.
Soft footsteps made them both look up and Jade and Rose shuffled back into the room. Jade was now more appropriately dressed in a fluffy white bathrobe. Her wet hair braided, resting over her shoulder in the front. She was missing her glasses. John sprung to his feet.
"Jade! Are you okay?"
Jade smiled cheerfully. "Yup, of course! I was on my way back when the storm hit. So I was fine! I just got wet from the downpour."
"Phew! You had us really worried. Where'd you run off to anyway?" John asked.
The three of them sat down on the couch while Dave remained isolated on his chair.
Jade giggled. "It's a secret."
With that excitement put behind them the four sat in the living room awhile longer, talking idly and laughing at each other's quips. In the end, no matter how much older they got, some things would never change. Their bonds were strong, forever. After what they had all gone through it would take no less than another world shattering phenomena to break the string tying them together. Eventually they grew sleepy, tried of talking, and retired. Dave did not and stayed perched in his chair staring out the window at the rain pelting the glass. He fetched his camera again, scrolled through it with disinterest, but went right back to watching the storm rumbling outside.
Time passed and Dave could count every second. It was something he had inherited from before, he supposed. Time was always something he was aware of. Without even thinking about it he could count every second that passed with all the precision of a clock. It was not a skill he particularly enjoyed having. In some instances his awareness could make time stop or slow down. Yet at the same time it made him aware of when the time would end. Nothing was timeless to Dave. Everything started and everything would stop. Today he counted five hours, forty-five minutes and seventy-eight seconds in which he and Jade wandered around the landscape snapping photos. Even longer was the time he counted in which Jade's time belonged to That Guy. It outweighed the time with him and that's all he really got out of it.
Right now time passed in one hour, two minutes and forty-nine seconds before Dave heard someone shuffling back into the living room. It was Jade, still dressed in her fuzzy bathrobe. She yawned and rubbed her eyes.
"Still awake?" She asked.
Dave inclined his head at her, unhidden eyes staring at the way she looked ready to fall asleep where she stood. "Naw, I'm asleep. This is a dream. It's all in your mind."
Jade giggled and wandered over to him. She stood idly beside the armrest, bouncing her feet. Dave stared up at her waiting for her to sit. When she didn't he scowled. "What? Am I in your seat?"
"Nooooo," Jade drawled and then pointed at the camera in his lap. "Let me see."
"I was in half of them! I have a right to see!"
Dave snorted and waved his hand at her. "Nope. You can't see until the final production is complete. That's the rule. You break the rules, you have to pay the penalty fine. Five million bucks. True facts."
Jade lunged during Dave's small tangent and although he scrambled in surprise, she successfully wrestled the camera away and plopped happily down onto the couch. Dave dragged himself from the chair and sank down next to her.
"Not cool, Harley. Pouncing on me when I'm tired and vulnerable like a turtle on its back. It's just downright mean."
"Oh, stop," Jade said. She began to scroll through the pictures one by one, examining them curiously. Dave felt a weird pang of self-consciousness. He'd shown Jade his photos before but this was different. The photos he took today meant something to him and on that thought he wondered when he turned into such a sentimental asshole.
He watched the screen's light flicker in her eyes. Watched the way her face changed when she saw a photo she liked or didn't like. She laughed at the ones he'd snapped of Rose for they usually involved her look of irritation. She didn't like her picture taken thus it was Dave's duty to snap as many as possible of her when she wasn't aware. The rain fell harder, the thunder cracked louder, but everything felt still and quiet in their space. When she'd scrolled through every single one and surrounded the camera back to him.
"I'm glad you took all these pictures," she said softly. "They're really good."
"Of course they are," was his default reply. Then he hesitated and added, "But you're welcome, I guess."
"I want them. Make them into a book for me, like you do with the other ones."
Dave inclined his head at her. They were sitting close, side by side, and he could see the details in her face. She looked sad and it was not an expression he thought looked flattering are her normally cheerful face. Something nagged at him then, something telling him there was a reason she'd gotten back up, that she was asking for the photos. Something…
Jade smiled at his response and gave a mighty yawn. "Thanks. Okay… I guess I am going back to bed. I'm so tired. I don't know why I'm still up."
"Wait." Dave had no idea why he stopped her as she began to rise. She stared at him quizzically. Shit. He didn't actually think of a reason to keep her here. He had just wanted her to stay, greedy for her time that belonged to someone else.
"Nevermind," He finished lamely.
Jade smiled and left. Dave remained, sat on the couch alone, and returned to counting seconds.